Will October 28, 2021 be marked as a day of transformation for the technology industry? For on this day, Facebook Inc., which is currently valued at around $1 trillion, renamed itself Meta Platforms Inc. Like John F. Kennedy announcing the goal of landing a man on the moon, some wonder if this is the start of a new frontier.
The technology industry has historically experienced several openings of floodgates or massive breakthroughs in advancements. Older people may remember the internet revolution starting off when Netscape launched their first browser. Crypto giant, Grayscale, claims that Facebook’s pivot to the metaverse will be one of these defining moments and possibly the means by which virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) become forms of universally accepted technology.
I have been investing in AR/VR products both at a personal level and in a professional capacity, and I have seen a significant increase in capital allocation in this field. While many of the related projects are still in the early stages of their evolution, with the seriousness Facebook brought by changing its name to Meta, I expect the momentum to build in 2022.
A Background On AR
If we look at the history of virtual reality, it all started back when Jaron Lanier in the late 1980s designed some of the first business-grade virtual reality hardware under his firm VPL Research.
Facebook took a massive bet in 2014 and announced that it has reached a definitive agreement to acquire Oculus VR, the leader in immersive virtual reality technology, for a total of approximately $2 billion. That was an eye-popping acquisition. At that time, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg had said: “Mobile is the platform of today, and now we’re also getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow. Oculus has the chance to create the most social platform ever, and change the way we work, play and communicate.”
Other companies have shown interest as well over the years. Google started selling its own version of the VR glasses, Glass Explorers, in the U.S. for a limited period, starting in 2013 for $1,500. It had an integrated 5 megapixel still camera and 720p video camera. The headset received a great deal of criticism amid concerns that its use could violate existing privacy laws.
In early 2015, Google announced that it would stop producing the Google Glass prototype, to be continued in 2017 tentatively. In 2017 and 2019 Google announced new editions of its glasses, but even today, Google has not found any traction for this wearable technology.
I was one of the early users of Google Glass, but I was not sure if the technology was ready for prime time. On a related note, though some 16 million people played Pokemon Go, I was also reluctant then to accept the mainstreaming of the mixed reality.
Another tech giant, Microsoft, took a different approach than Google. In 2016, the company released its mixed AR HoloLens, targeted to developers in the United States and Canada for a list price of $3,000 in the pre-production version of HoloLens.
Samsung and Asus have extended an offer to Microsoft to help produce their own mixed-reality products. In late 2016, Microsoft announced a global expansion of HoloLens and publicized that the product would be available for preorder in Australia, Ireland, France, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Later, to increase the adoption of the HoloLens, Microsoft started renting its $5,000 HoloLenses without clients having to make the full investment.
A New Resurgence
In recent times, with the crypto, bullish markets and newfound craze for things like Dogecoins and NFTs, a new class of technologies and methods have emerged. Stories of people buying land and buildings in Decentraland and Sandbox are becoming common.
Are we reaching the tipping point of a next-generation technology or is it another fad? In the early 1990s, tech enthusiasts told the world that AI would be the ultimate job killer by the 2000s. Some people over-hyped and touted the concept of flying cars, which have not materialized yet.
Recently, we have seen some reports that the metaverse will be an $800 billion market. Although only time can tell if Mark Zuckerberg’s bet in renaming Facebook to Meta will pay off, I believe strongly that the number predicted by Bloomberg is smaller than the eventual outcome. I think the world is finally ready, and my prediction is that within 10 years, the metaverse will be a multi trillion economy by itself.
So when we board our multimillion-dollar NFT yachts and write new constitutions for the world we’re about to sail away to, we must ask ourselves how far could this take us, and how far do we want to go? As we expand into the future and further from our base reality, Kennedy’s words echo through time — “We stand today on the edge of a new frontier.”
Published first in Forbes.