Microsoft or Meta: Who's best positioned to win the metaverse?

Man wearing HoloLens 2
Man wearing HoloLens 2 (Image credit: Windows Central)

The metaverse is a concept that's been around for a long while (decades and decades, if not centuries), but its prominence in tech is a recent development. Now it's a word that's on the tip of many, many companies' tongues, companies that had never said "metaverse" before October 2021. The question is: With so many corporations aggressively adopting metaverse lingo, whose definition of the concept is primed to be the winner?

Two of the frontrunners in the competition appear to be Meta and Facebook. Meta, as its name implies, has the advantage of being 1,000% in it to win it on the metaverse concept (owning Facebook is a nice boost, too). Microsoft, meanwhile, has the advantage of being Microsoft. And the metaverse itself has the advantage of being an ill-defined concept that could be co-opted and taken over by virtually any corporate entity. So, who wins? We asked experts to weigh in.

Meta-managing expectations

Minecraft

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

There's the metaverse itself, and then the definition of the word. Two potential winners in two categories. Anshel Sag, a senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, had views on who's setting the tone for each.

"Without Meta's investments and disclosures, I don't think we'd be talking about the metaverse as much as we are today," he said, highlighting that at the moment, Meta's definition of metaverse is the dominant one. This would certainly line up with the fact that many, many companies started discussing the metaverse immediately after Facebook made its transition.

With that being said, Sag didn't see either company as having the default "correct" approach to the metaverse, even if one has been doing a better job of establishing the de facto definition.

"I think that the metaverse will comprise of all kinds of devices, whether they are AR or VR, PC or smartphone, glass or tablet," Sag stated. "Hardware agnosticism has been built into the internet of today and the 3D standards that we are seeing also take that cross-platform approach into account. In the end, the metaverse needs to be interoperable and cross-platform whether it is software or hardware because otherwise, you don't get the scale that is necessary to reach the complete internet."

"Meta is going to have a much bigger uphill battle in terms of its perception among the average consumer."

Based on this proposal, Sag posited that Microsoft's vague outline for the metaverse was closest to what the metaverse may ultimately end up becoming, though he mentioned AWS and Google shouldn't be counted out of the discussion either. "I actually think that one of the companies with one of the most comprehensive visions for the metaverse is probably Intel simply because the company is looking at it from a multi-layer approach and with the understanding that the company will need to support many different approaches and that openness is key."

Sag theorized that the metaverse, once it's more properly formed than it is now, will look like today's internet with the added twist of spatial awareness and 3D objects. But as for the world of today, the one we live in, there's a way to go before that final vision starts taking shape.

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Circling back to the core debate of Microsoft and Meta, Sag's final remarks touched on the fact that even though Meta is helping shape today's definition of the metaverse, the company itself is in a tricky spot to actualize its ambitions.

"I think one thing to consider with Meta's approach is that it's mostly based on monetizing transactions and software sales, while Microsoft's is about providing the cloud computing for whatever services want to enable the metaverse, and I think Microsoft's approach is inherently less intrusive and more open than Meta's, and I believe when you look at the perception of the two companies, Meta is going to have a much bigger uphill battle in terms of its perception among the average consumer," he said.

Too soon to tell

AltspaceVR

Source: AltspaceVR (Image credit: Source: AltspaceVR)

Forrester and Gartner shared Sag's sentiment that the metaverse has yet to fully take shape and we're only in the precursor stage.

Here is Gartner's definition of the metaverse:

The metaverse is a persistent and immersive digital environment of independent, yet interconnected networks that will use yet-to-be determined protocols for communications. It enables persistent, decentralized, collaborative, interoperable digital content that intersects with the physical world's real-time, spatially oriented and indexed content. Access is currently device-dependent and includes experiences spanning the immersive (augmented, mixed, and virtual reality) spectrum.

Gartner Senior Principal Analyst Tuong Nguyen said that based on Gartner's current definition, the firm doesn't believe the metaverse exists yet. Rather, we're in the precursor era. And as an extension of that thought, given how varied the current metaverse definition landscape is, the "right" one varies depending on what you're looking for.

"Here's an analogy: What's a smartphone?" Nguyen asked. "Different versions of answers: An email tool, an SMS device, a portable gaming device, a video tool, a way to access social networking, something to listen to music and books on, etc. All these answers are true, but the most accurate is that it's a collection of all these, rather than a single 'slice.'"

Did you know: The primordial metaverse is on the way?

Forrester VP and Principal Analyst David Truog agreed that some metaverse building blocks are taking shape, but the real thing — the fight for the soul of the metaverse — is a long way off.

"The AR/MR/VR platforms we see today (like Microsoft Mesh, Meta Horizon Worlds, Roblox, Campfire, RecRoom, Spatial, etc.) are metaverse precursors," Truog said. "They contain some of the ingredients for the metaverse but are not yet the metaverse because they're not interconnected like websites and webpages can be, on the web. And without those interconnections, there is no metaverse."

He outlined that there are phases to the metaverse we should pay attention to. First, there are the metaverse precursors. Then, there's the primordial metaverse, enabling people to travel to worlds across platforms. And lastly, the federated metaverse will take shape, wherein identity and property are enforced.

Anyone's game

How to play Oculus Rift games on Windows Mixed Reality

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

To provide a TL;DR for the impatient folks out there: Meta may set the tone for the definition of the burgeoning metaverse concept, but Microsoft's vague web of software entanglements could end up more accurately reflecting what said metaverse looks like in reality. And in the end, neither company may even have the proper foundations to be the de facto leader in crafting the meta future we may all soon live in.

Unknowns are multitudinous and possibilities are infinite. The only thing that's certain is Facebook has, at least temporarily, thrown Big Tech for a loop and ushered in an era of many people confusing themselves with contradictory metaverse spiels. Should this shake out to be the beginnings of a real-world Ready Player One, just know you got to live through the precursor era. So grab one of the best VR headsets and dive in before it becomes cool.

Robert Carnevale is the News Editor for Windows Central. He's a big fan of Kinect (it lives on in his heart), Sonic the Hedgehog, and the legendary intersection of those two titans, Sonic Free Riders. He is the author of Cold War 2395. Have a useful tip? Send it to robert.carnevale@futurenet.com.

11 Comments
  • No one should "win" the metaverse.
    If anything, it should be everyone working together. But Facebook is an evil company and shouldn't be given power over the future of digital culture.
  • A fair question here, Is Facebook more evil that Alphabet?
    Explore your response from what type business model they operate point of view.
    (Hint. Advertising. As such would cheat, lie, manipulate, trick and sell their souls for consumers' privacy and data) One of them will do a boatload more than the other.
  • Absolutely this. When most people look at Ready Player One as the concept of the metaverse (an unrealistic expectation), they’re probably not looking at it from Zuckerberg’s POV - seeing control of experience, micro-transactions, all under one person’s power. This, I think, will be Meta’s biggest downfall - trying to build something so big and vast and controlling that it will end up seeing a big splash and a quick downward fall - like Second Life.
  • I think the company that will win the meta verse is the one that creates a naturally feeling and looking headset that people want to use as something other than a novelty. This feels like the sort of thing that needs the hardware to come first and then a killer app.
  • The metaverse already exists.
    It is the internet.
    The portals are Phones, PCs, tablets, TVs. (Sound familiar?) And, someday, smart glasses and contacts.
    Not soon, though.
    VR/AR/etc are but a tiny part of it and focusing on niche hardware like headsets is trying to use the tail to wag the cash cow. (What is the added value of headsets in the cash-generating portions of the internet?) In that respect the edge automatically goes to the agnostic Cloud services companies.
    MS, AWS, GOOGLE, IBM, in that order.
    Meta doesn't factor in it. They're just another user of the metaverse, albeit a big one and dominant in gossip.
  • no one. there isnt enough interest from actual consumers
  • That is literally what everyone said about every technological advancement. In my life time, people said that about PCs, then laptops, then modems, then the internet, then smart phones, etc etc etc. There is no consumer appeal until people understand it and then it's affordable.
  • All those you highlight follow a progression towards ubiquity and mobility.
    How do headsets fit that model?
    Not well.
    Headsets are niche and will remain so until proper smartglasses emerge.
    Think: FREE GUY's "glasses people".
  • And probably well after that. The idea that any of these will be a “this will replace everything” is laughable. The real value and the real bet is to look at how it will become part of the ecosystem. Smart glasses aren’t going to replace your laptop, or tablet, or even your smartphone - just like the smart watch hasn’t replace the phone and the phone hasn’t replaced the laptop, and none of those have replaced TVs. By the time “proper” smart glasses get here, Holograms will be starting to gain traction. At the end of the day, tech geeks will always want the smart glasses and be, but it remains to be seen if it will get to the point where the average consumer will see the benefit to integrate it into their own ecosystem.
  • First, check your use of the word “literally”. Second, outside of the very initial push of computers into the consumer market, there was never any large percentages of people scoffing at the idea of smartphones, laptops or the internet - especially from a conceptual point of view (people may have scoffed at certain companies trying to enter markets). Third, I do agree with your last sentence - but it would be appropriate to say “there’s not enough interest from consumers RIGHT NOW…”. As the article pointed out, this is a VERY young market - and not all ideas will pan out. Will VR climb out of it’s gaming mire? Maybe, maybe not. If it does, it won’t look like what we have today (just like how the start of consumer smartphones was basically a Palm PDA glued to a brick cellphone). The modern popular adoption of the smartphone was due largely to a less tech-centric user interface and the inclusion of a camera. Tech people understood Palm Phones, Pocket PC phones and Blackberries because it was all about business productivity. The average consumer only jumped on board when it moved to a portable multimedia communication device. This is also part of the danger, especially from “Meta”s perspective - by throwing all in on a VR solution, it’s a huge risk of failure for those who don’t buy in (be it to the hardware of VR or the subscription to Meta’s specific platform). The article does a good job (sort of) by positing that it’s less about the interface and more about the back end. People are not going to go for the idea of Meta controlling the Metaverse. They will want it to be more like the web. I say sort of because as much as the article points it out, it still posits Meta as a forerunner, when it talks about how it will be a collection and eventually Meta will be an also-run. First isn’t always the best or the winner - the winner will be the one who doesn’t try to define it for themselves, but creates something people will want.
  • Well, with current VR tech, we can make
    1. UFO human game or racer (control character with joysticks).
    2. area defender, cus you can only walk freely inside a small defined area. * area defender <- this is why both Meta and MS started with Office application. So if you are dreaming about something like Ready Player One... if a car won't kill you, stairs will. If you are dreaming about something like "conscious transferring"... like SOA or Snow Crash... god knows when. What about a brain signal hijacking system? Yeah, that would work. So basically, it prevents the signal from reaching to your limbs so you get to "walk around" without physically moving you limbs. You can lie down on the bed and enjoy your VR content.
    So,
    Sleep: lie on the bed.
    Work: lie on the bed.
    Eat: lie on the bed with tubes.
    Drink: lie on the bed with tubes.
    Excretion: lie on the bed with tubes.
    Exercise: lie on the bed with limbs strapped onto some machines.
    Sex: lie on the bed with toy addons. And with the help of IOT, data centers and spatial anchors, holographic floating on the street, next to shops / stadium, on the busses, etc, AR is feasible.