Days after Facebook, Inc. (FB) announced a name change to Meta Platforms, Inc. and a pivot from social media to the metaverse, Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) launched the first iteration of its corporate metaverse. At the company's Ignite conference, Microsoft advertised a slew of features aimed at integrating the concept into its products.
- Microsoft is incorporating the metaverse concept into its existing applications and software, the company announced at its Ignite 2021 conference.
- Microsoft's Teams software will begin featuring AI-enabled avatars and immersive workspaces sometime in the first half of next year.
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces will let companies recreate their work and factory floors to enable virtual meetings.
- According to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, the pandemic shutdown made commercial cases for the metaverse more mainstream.
Teams, Microsoft's video-conferencing and collaboration software, will have immersive corporate spaces for virtual meetings and artificial intelligence-enabled avatars that sync lip movements and mimic hand and facial gestures. The avatars work in both 2D and 3D settings and integrate Microsoft Mesh, an application unveiled by the company earlier this year. Attendees in a Teams meeting will also be able to share PowerPoint presentations and other Office artifacts.
The new 3D features, which will be accessible using Microsoft's own HoloLens device and Facebook's Oculus VR, are slated to be released in the first half of next year. Microsoft said its research showed that avatars created a sense of "presence" and freed workers from constantly having to appear in front of the camera.
Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for modern work at the company, said the introduction of avatars "will be the first metaverse element to seem real." Even though their integration "seems simple, it seems like just one step, but that's the type of step I think people are ready to make," he said.
The company also integrated elements of the metaverse into Dynamics 365 Connected Spaces that enables virtual views of company retail and factory spaces. "It's no longer just looking at a factory floor, you can be on the floor," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Beer maker Anheuser-Busch Inbev SA (BUD) has used Microsoft software to recreate virtual simulations of its factory floors.
Spataro noted that the software could also have applications for retail websites that are currently not "very well connected to the physicality of the experience." Offering an example, Spataro explained, "You could, for instance, experience a Best Buy store in the metaverse."
Microsoft and the Metaverse
Microsoft has been an early mover in the metaverse, having unveiled devices that enhance the concept and incorporated elements into its offerings over the years. For example, its cloud offering Azure already has an Azure Digital Twin feature that enables modeling and simulation of real-world physical spaces. Accenture Plc. (ACN) has created a digital twin of its headquarters to run its new employee orientations. During Tuesday's presentation, Leena Nair, chief human resources officer at consumer goods giant Unilever PLC (UL), also illustrated the ways in which her company is using Microsoft software to conduct global employee orientations.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told Bloomberg Television that the pandemic shutdown has made commercial use cases for the metaverse more mainstream. According to him, the consumer applications of the metaverse will take time and feel like science fiction. But the business use cases are available now.