What is the Metaverse? And What Isn’t It?
The metaverse is here. While some might harbor skepticism toward this next evolution of the internet, the fact is that embracing the metaverse can give companies a competitive advantage as new technologies emerge and consumers fundamentally rethink how they interact with digital properties over the next several decades. Companies that are slow to adopt the metaverse, conversely, might be left behind.
Still, many companies have only a faint understanding of what the metaverse is currently, what it will become, and how it will materially affect the bottom line. It all starts with a reexamination of the company's approach to UX and testing.
Here are answers to some key questions about the metaverse, what industries it will affect, and how emerging technologies like cryptocurrency factor in.
Q: What is the metaverse? And, what isn’t the metaverse?
What the metaverse does is essentially merge our various realities together in a way that we haven’t seen before. The metaverse blends virtual, augmented and physical reality together to create a digital space that blurs the boundaries between online and real life.
To get the full experience of the metaverse, consumers will typically use accessories such as headsets or glasses with AR/VR technology built in. The metaverse enables the use of 3D worlds, a massive — even unlimited — number of users, continuity of user data between products and a unique sense of an individual’s presence in the digital world. This requires real-time rendering and a massive scale that was previously not possible, but is now.
What isn’t the metaverse? It’s not an individual platform or privately-owned entity. Ideally, it’s a free and open space, just like the internet we know today, except enabled via new technologies for a more expansive experience and ease of use.
Q: What industries will be impacted most by the metaverse?
While the metaverse will disrupt some markets more than others — retail immediately comes to mind — the simple fact is that it will be felt in nearly all industries. For example, distributed workforces are the norm. As companies grapple with the realities of the digital workplace, they will have to support remote and international workers in a variety of ways. The metaverse is one way to adapt, such as with video conferencing and digital whiteboards that help all team members collaborate and understand company goals.
Nearly every software company, voice-controlled or wearable device developer, retailer, vendor and service provider will look to create high-quality metaverse experiences. With Facebook’s wholescale shift to Meta, the company is at the forefront of an emergent change in the software space. Just as mobile phones changed how consumers interact with the internet, the metaverse will provide the next evolution — and software providers and device developers must be the stewards of these changes.
As mentioned, retail faces significant changes as businesses must strategize for what it means to provide immersive shopping experiences for a metaverse marketplace — meaning both VR capabilities at home and AR experiences in-store. Personalization from strong AI engines will also become more common, and consumers will have higher expectations from apps. Some AI engines are better than others, but the bottom line is this: personalization must be smart, localized and accurate. Don’t just recommend a coffee shop; recommend a coffee shop right around the corner at the time of day the consumer typically needs a caffeine boost, and give them a promotional code that expires in an hour for their favorite beverage. This goes well beyond the typical hit-or-miss personalization that exists today.
Also, big opportunities exist for the metaverse in healthcare, which has already shifted considerably since the pandemic in delivering better in-home care. Today, clinicians can remotely monitor heart rate, diabetes and other criteria, but the future will offer much more telemetry for those that need it. Thus, doctors will have a better way to access information and interact with the patient through metaverse-enabled technologies.
Q: What types of devices and wearables will enable the metaverse for the average consumer?
We’re only scratching the surface of the devices that will help enable the metaverse. Consider that the user in this case might be a consumer, gamer or traveler — and consider all the various devices that could enhance those metaverse experiences.
The VR headset market will continue to grow. Furthermore, these headsets, like the Meta Quest and HTC Vive product lines, will become more common in households as they advance past video game usage. Ease of use, freedom of movement, and adaptability to space limitations will all be key factors for the winners here.
The next few years will see a lot of new, sleeker products become available. We’ll see AR glasses and other devices that fundamentally change how our virtual and physical worlds merge. Lighter products are the key to taking the metaverse around with you in your day-to-day life, such as smart jewelry and other products that integrate seamlessly with consumers’ lifestyles; technology companies know this and will craft these products. Here also, technologies that take into account all our differences with vision, hearing, and other senses will pull ahead over time. There is a huge opportunity for ingenuity and innovation.
Q: What roles do cryptocurrency and NFTs play in the metaverse, and what does that mean for businesses?
Cryptocurrency is essentially a digital, decentralized form of currency, like Bitcoin or Ethereum that is supported by blockchain technology. It’s important to distinguish between decentralized and centralized, the latter being a government-run digital currency, which might remove some of the benefits of a decentralized currency due to oversight and regulations.
Cryptocurrency is becoming a norm. More people own crypto than ever before, and more people want to be paid in crypto than ever before — including quite a few members of our uTest community. Native currencies are subject to inflation, and crypto enthusiasts argue cryptocurrency is a more stable alternative. Realistically both will survive for a long time and the winners in this area will be those companies and technologies that allow the users to seamlessly and efficiently bridge between technologies and currencies.
Regardless of how ubiquitous cryptocurrency becomes, it is already popular enough to be on companies’ radars. Everyone from retailers to restaurants should consider supporting cryptocurrency for payments — and this is a must for those making the transition to the metaverse. Some foot-forward companies are even creating their own cryptocurrencies as a way to reward customer loyalty; this approach offers many of the same benefits as existing rewards or gift card programs, but with better technology and accountability.
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are tokens that store digital media, such as video or art. Because NFTs are based on blockchain technology, like cryptocurrency, each one has the ability to be easily authenticated, with past ownership history documented.
In the metaverse, cryptocurrency will be the de facto method of payment, as it ties directly to the person’s identity for quick verification. Likewise, as our world becomes more virtual, NFTs are the latest stage of evolution in digital art. Rather than past interactions in which work was digitally signed, NFTs ensure authenticity and ownership in a more secure, traceable manner. But there still must be adequate verification of cryptocurrency and NFTs, which is a source of confusion and a logistical challenge for many businesses. While still in some wild early stages with questionable digital art going for crazy amounts, NFTs will settle to become more stable and legitimate over time.
Q: How should businesses fundamentally rethink how they develop products with the metaverse becoming a priority?
There’s no doubt that product-building practices will need to change. Adaptability is key in everything from payments to how organizations collect, classify and manage data sets, and provide access.
Just as accessibility should be a priority in every design and all feature development, businesses should consider these new technologies and interfaces when they build. Support for the metaverse is essentially support for an incremental set of technologies that includes accessibility, voice, AR, VR and more. These technologies are initiatives for many businesses, but the emergence of the metaverse means it’s time to stop kicking the can down the road. The key piece here is to consider the needs upfront and build them into your business cases and designs. Retrofits are expensive, and they enable your competition to get ahead.
Q: With the metaverse being an immersive, multi-faceted experience, how can businesses ensure they deliver high-quality digital experiences for all users?
Scale is a huge challenge. The entire experience must render properly and deliver content in every language spoken and written in-market. Not only must you design and develop for an incredibly diverse and distributed user base, but you must also validate those experiences in market and refine them as the metaverse evolves.
Additionally, you need to verify and validate that those NFTs and cryptocurrencies that we mentioned before work as expected. This requires payment testing and transactional validation also at a scale that companies haven’t seen before.
When you lay out the cold realities of all that goes into a metaverse experience, frankly, no company is particularly well-prepared to address those challenges — yet.
What this will come down to is a lot more testing in more dimensions, with the focus being more on experience than pure functionality. These test results are even more mission critical than prior usability testing results were before.
Think about it this way: the metaverse is the rise of the user experience. Adopt that mindset, and you’ll be on the right path to delivering world-class digital experiences.
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Q: From a fundamental testing and quality perspective, what’s different about the metaverse versus other types of platforms?
In a way, the testing challenges are the same as they’ve always been. Companies must adapt to whatever the state of the art is for testing — be flexible in dealing with different platforms, techniques and considerations.
That said, there are three key areas that come to mind when testing the metaverse: security testing, payment testing and immersive/inclusive UX testing.
These scaling challenges add complexity to any company’s metaverse strategy, and complexity means more pathways to attack. Just as it’s always been, companies must fundamentally prioritize security and ensure they can adequately support the complex architecture required of a metaverse experience.
Companies must implement proper payment testing to ensure consistent revenue streams in all relevant markets and currencies. This is an area where many businesses struggle today, and with added payment complexity just around the corner, it’s more important than ever to sufficiently validate payments.
Lastly, a high-quality user experience is just as important as ever. Companies must provide interactive, accessible and immersive metaverse experiences, each of which requires its own thorough and thoughtful approach to testing. In addition to UX testing, metaverse experiences must be inclusive of all users. Companies should establish an accessibility testing program to make sure proper local standards are met and all users can interact with a product or digital environment. UX and accessibility testing is best done in-market, or “in the wild,” where companies can better grasp the challenge of real users in real environments around the world.
Q: How is Applause testing in the metaverse?
We’re testing in the metaverse right now. For years, we have partnered with companies around the world to test AR/VR devices, cryptocurrency solutions, omnichannel experiences and other technologies essential to quality metaverse experiences.
For Applause, it’s really just another day at the office. For nearly 15 years, and through every digital trend and advancement during that time, leading brands have relied on the flexibility and scale of our global community to address their digital quality needs. Whether we need to put a prototype into the hands of a prospective user or find active users in a small, under-served market, we stand ready to help companies achieve their quality goals.
In-the-wild testing will only become more important as cross-application and high-sensory experiences become more mainstream. Lab environments can’t give you adequate test coverage — real users in real markets with real devices provide a level of certainty that is otherwise missing when you test exclusively in house.
There’s still some evolution to occur, particularly around processing power and video/camera technology. Applause will be ready to serve as your release partner and ensure quality metaverse experiences. We’re proud to be providing testing services for companies in the metaverse today and will continue to adapt to meet any of their evolving needs.
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