After 15 years of riding a boom in mobile computing that has turned tech’s biggest companies into giants worth trillions of dollars, the power brokers of the industry believe that controlling the doors into the metaverse and virtual reality could be the centerpiece of a new business, like smartphones and apps or personal computers and web browsers in the 1990s.
Fifteen years is a long time for the industry to wait for a new tech trend to come along. Ideas that many hoped would take central stage by now, like advanced artificial intelligence and quantum computing, are taking longer than some had anticipated. And the technology behind cryptocurrencies and newer ideas like decentralized computing appears promising — but its mainstream appeal is still unclear.
So tech companies are lining up to sell the devices that let consumers into this virtual world and control their experiences once they are inside it. Suddenly, building new things for the metaverse is offering the kind of fresh appeal that comes along only every so often in any industry.
“Most companies now see that the metaverse is around the corner,” said Matthew Ball, a venture capitalist and an essayist who has written extensively about this concept and the hype around it. “The narrative is a little ahead of the reality of these technologies, but this is a response to the enormity of the opportunity.”
One research firm estimates that the market for metaverse technologies — including games, virtual reality headsets, and other emerging gadgets and online services — topped $49 billion in 2020 and will grow by more than 40% each year.
“This is the evolution of the internet,” said Alex Kipman, who has spent more than a decade shepherding this kind of technology at Microsoft. “If you are a company like Microsoft, you want to participate.”