Microsoft is a software giant. Meta, the former Facebook, is the king of social media. What happens when these two square off for control of the business metaverse?
Microsoft jumped into the race to create a metaverse within Teams, just days after Facebook’s rebrand to Meta. It was a push to create virtual spaces for both consumers and businesses.
Virtual Experiences for Business
Next year, Microsoft will integrate Mesh, a collaborative platform for virtual experiences, directly into Microsoft Teams. It’s part of a larger effort to integrate the company’s mixed reality and HoloLens work with meetings and video calls in which anyone can participate using animated avatars.
Microsoft and Meta appear to be on a crash course to compete mightily in the metaverse, particularly for the future of work, with today’s announcement.
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Microsoft Mesh kind of felt like the future of Microsoft Teams meetings, and it appears to be on course for a full launch in the first half of 2022.
After months of people working from home and adjusting to hybrid work, Microsoft is building on efforts like Together Mode and other experiments to make meetings more interactive, and reduce the cognitive overload which comes with being on video conference calls for a good portion of the day.
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In a move toward a metaverse environment, Microsoft Teams will receive new 3D avatars that will not require the use of a VR headset. These avatars can literally represent you in both 2D and 3D meetings, so you can have an animated version of yourself if you don’t want to turn on your webcam.
“It’s not binary,” says Katie Kelly, principal product manager for Microsoft Mesh, in a recent interview. “I can choose how I want to show up, whether it’s video or an avatar, and there’s a variety of custom options to choose how you want to be present in a meeting.” “We can interpret your vocal cues to animate that avatar, so it feels present and like it’s there with you.”
Microsoft will use AI to listen to your voice and then animate your avatar. If you switch to a more immersive 3D meeting, these animations will also include raising your avatar’s hands when you select the raise hand option, as well as animating emoji around your avatar.
Microsoft sees Mesh integration as being most useful in immersive spaces, particularly in its efforts to build a business metaverse. Microsoft envisions virtual spaces within Teams where people can network and socialize through games, as well as collaborate on projects using Microsoft apps.
These virtual environments will obviously work best with a VR or AR headset, but thanks to the animated avatar work, they will be accessible to anyone across multiple devices.
“I think the thing that really separates how Microsoft is approaching metaverse and our own experiences is starting with the human experience, so the feeling of presence, talking to someone, making eye contact, and reactions will be important,” Kelly explained.
Microsoft is even incorporating translation and transcription support, so you may be able to meet in a virtual Teams space with a coworker from another country with fewer language barriers.
Microsoft Teams will be able to use these virtual spaces and avatars in the first half of 2022, according to the promise. “The goal is to be able to go into an immersive space and then collaborate and use Microsoft’s tools by the first half of next year,” Kelly says.
Within Teams, businesses will be able to create their own virtual spaces, or metaverses. Accenture has been experimenting with this after creating its own virtual campus for employees prior to the pandemic. This virtual space quickly proved useful, as the company used it to onboard new employees during the pandemic.
Microsoft and Meta: The fight for the business metaverse
Microsoft’s push for a metaverse within Teams comes on the heels of Facebook changing its name to Meta.
Meta is working on concepts that are very similar to Microsoft’s, led by the concept of a digital avatar that represents you in virtual spaces. Meta’s Reality Labs division has been developing consumer hardware and software, such as the Quest VR headset, and last year teased its own vision of remote work using augmented and virtual reality.
In the metaverse era, Microsoft and Meta will undoubtedly compete fiercely. Microsoft has spent years investing in this area, as evidenced by its HoloLens work and acquisition of AltspaceVR.
However, Microsoft and Meta are not alone. Many businesses have begun to use platforms such as Spatial to provide virtual spaces for events, meetings, and networking opportunities.
Meta has billions of daily users on Facebook and Instagram to tap into for its metaverse ambitions, while Microsoft has millions of daily Teams users and integration into Office to try to make the metaverse a reality for businesses.
Keep in mind that Microsoft is a software company, while Meta, despite the name change, is a social media company that sells ads. So, it would appear that Microsoft would have an advantage in creating a business metaverse.
This battle is just beginning. Stay tuned.