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4 Things People Misunderstand About the Metaverse

Round Editorial

Kathy Wang, Head of AR Product at TikTok, discusses the metaverse; what we get wrong about it, what's on the horizon, and how to be an “early-mover.”

Metaverse is now a big buzzword in the tech world, but its meaning remains unclear. To cut through some of the confusion, Round recently invited Kathy Wang, Head of AR Product at TikTok, to share her thoughts on what the metaverse is, what it’s not, what’s exciting about it, and how to be an “early-mover”. Here are four key takeaways from her interactive session and talk — namely, four key things people misunderstand about the metaverse:

1. Myth: The metaverse is all about virtual reality (VR)

Do a quick Google search and you might think the metaverse is anything from a fictional sci-fi universe to a social metaverse company to a physical place that you can gain access into. There’s no clear definition, but contrary to popular belief, the metaverse is so much more than virtual reality, says Wang. It likely won’t be centered around people wearing headsets 24/7 and living in VR. As Elon Musk once said, “I don’t see someone strapping a friggin screen to their face all day.”

For the metaverse to reach its true potential, users need to be able to tap into a virtual world while still feeling present in the real one, believes Wang. “I think of the metaverse as a sort of 3D Internet,” she says. “It’s not replacing what we have today, it’s an evolution. The key difference is that in the 3D world, a digital world integrates into the real world.”

2. Myth: The metaverse is guaranteed to make us more isolated

Critics of the metaverse fear that it will lead to isolated experiences that remove us from the real world and create solitude rather than society. In Wang’s view, empathy and connection should be key considerations for companies contributing to the metaverse. “It’s not about digital content replacing the real world; that would be quite dangerous because it is isolating,” says Wang. Instead we need to strive for true integration. Wang gives the example of maps and navigation — being able to view your route through a device you wear isn’t inherently isolating; “it can be a natural part of ‘real life.’”

Another strategy Wang recommends? A focus on social experiences rather than solo ones. Take the example of education. In a metaverse world where a classroom is made up of in-person students as well as computer-generated avatars (aka digital twins), “you still need to be able to detect how the person next to you is feeling, even if you’re having a remote experience,” says Wang.

3. Myth: The metaverse is primarily about gaming

Many of the best-known 3D digital worlds are in gaming. While gaming might have been its birthplace, there are many other potential enterprise and industrial applications for the metaverse. Take the automotive industry, for instance. The metaverse is already changing the way cars are designed and engineered. Rather than designing in 2D, engineers — powered by a combination of VR and AR — can accelerate the design and prototyping of new products using 3D simulations. What’s more, companies can create more innovative, meaningful interactions with consumers. (After all, “test driving” takes on a whole new connotation when you can do it with a headset from your living room.)

There’s also great potential for the metaverse in healthcare, says Wang. While setup and configuration of an OR (operating room) before surgeries isn’t something most people give much thought to, it’s a complex, time-consuming, and extremely costly aspect of healthcare. By using metaverse technologies to increase efficiencies in setting up the OR, you’ve got a clear ROI, says Wang, not to mention the impact on patients. Minimizing a surgeon’s pre-op time in the OR can free up their availability to see more patients and decrease wait times.

4. Myth: Businesses shouldn’t experiment with the metaverse until it fully “exists”

Given the experimental nature of the metaverse, it can be hard for companies to know when it’s the “right” time to jump in headfirst. Wang thinks a good way to evaluate the right timing is to take stock of how you engage with your customers today. “Learn from your customers. Understand their pain points that are difficult to solve today, but that might be solvable with some sort of technology,” she says. If you’ve identified several points that are fundamentally difficult to solve with your existing technology, the metaverse might be something you want to experiment with.

Likewise, try thinking about the new opportunities and customers that new technologies could open for your business, says Wang. Ask yourself, “Would this allow me to reach a new group of customers? Would these products be more experiential or more immersive than what currently exists? And by evolving, what new distribution channels for monetization could I tap into?”

While it’s tempting to take a wait-and-see approach and allow other companies to develop a playbook, there’s the early-mover advantage to be aware of, says Wang. “Think about where you can maximize your value in the value chain and start to experiment and set that standard for the industry. Now is a great opportunity to do that.”

About Kathy Wang:

What is the Metaverse, exactly? How do you get in? Described as the future of the Internet, the Metaverse relies on tech innovations from VR to AR to blockchain. How we will show up, participate, and experience the Metaverse still doesn’t feel very clear. Join us for an interactive conversation to learn how Augmented Reality plays a role with Kathy Wang, Head of AR Product at TikTok and former Director of Product at Magic Leap.

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