Brands are capitalising on heightened metaverse interest by developing more immersive accessories for consumers who are eager to explore digital worlds.
As the hype around the metaverse continues, hardware development for digital worlds has exploded globally and is set to be a major area of focus for brands over the next few years.
With the metaverse set to be a USD 800 billion market opportunity in 2024, tech companies are exploring new ways to interact in the digital world and enhance phygital experiences.
Here are areas to track in this growing sector:
- Immersive headsets: from face tracking to smaller form factors, major developments in VR headsets are improving immersion and comfort for wearers
- Hassle-free body tracking: more accurate body sensors aim to offer an additional level of presence and a greater range of expression in the metaverse
- Sensorial enhancements: alternative wearable products that tap other senses are emerging to serve specific applications within gaming and entertainment
- Entering the fitverse: fitness brands are designing virtual worlds for workouts and integrating social experiences into their products
- Non-wearable advancements: ambient and non-wearable VR set-ups are growing within home and commercial spaces
- Software opportunities: AI-led software will become an integral part of the metaverse experience, ranging from personal assistants to speech translators
According to Gartner, 25 percent of people globally will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse by 2026 and 30 percent of organisations will have metaverse-ready products and services.
Around the world, regulators range from neutral to supportive, with East Asian governments so far more keen on advancing metaverse technologies. While China is developing its own metaverse that could be worth up to USD 8trn in the future, South Korea’s government has pledged to invest USD 187 million to support its national metaverse ecosystem.
The difference in consumer sentiment between countries is also apparent. 33 percent of US adults surveyed said they were curious about the metaverse, with 50 percent uninterested or suspicious of it. In the UK, 36 percent of internet user respondents said they did not need the metaverse. Southeast Asians have reported positive sentiment, with an average of 72 percent of respondents relating the metaverse with positive emotions. Generational splits are also emerging, with 54 percent of Americans aged 55 and above saying they have never heard of the metaverse.
What does this mean for you?
Metaverse development is set to grow exponentially. With AR/VR headset shipments expected to quadruple to 24 million units by 2025, there is an opportunity for tech companies to use a ‘picks and shovels’ strategy by developing and selling hardware that complements VR setups — but it will be important to target products to the right audience, and to factor inclusivity into development from the start.
With the VR headset market projected to surpass 50 million shipments by 2026, companies are focusing on developing higher-resolution displays and face-tracking technologies.
Display technology advancements are enabling companies to pack more pixels into their headsets and increase field of view. US VR company VRgineer’s XTAL 3 features a market-leading horizontal and vertical view, providing a more true-to-life experience within VR. Finnish VR headset company Varjo’s Aero features a resolution of 2,880 x 2,720 per eye, the highest pixel per eye count in a consumer headset to date.
Facial expressions and eye contact have been recognised as an important part of creating lifelike avatars. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the company will prioritise face and eye tracking in its future Quest headsets, and other VR headset manufacturers have introduced these features as well. Singapore-based VR hardware company Megadodo Simulation Games’ DecaGear headset uses infrared cameras to translate more than 50 facial movements onto virtual avatars. Swedish eye-tracking technology company Tobii announced it is working with Chinese VR headset manufacturer Pimax to integrate its technologies into the latter’s next-generation headset.
How you can action this: to make the metaverse more compelling and emotionally satisfying, prioritise presence. People rely on microexpressions and movements to detect emotions, and VR needs to meet that baseline of immersion to sustain engagement.
Demand for greater immersion and full-body experiences is leading to more lightweight and simple-to-wear body-tracking solutions.
Body tracking enables more freedom of expression in virtual spaces, but body-tracking hardware has historically been cumbersome to use and expensive. With growing metaverse interest, manufacturers are developing more streamlined solutions. Chinese VR hardware company Tundra Lab’s Tundra Tracker sports the same features as the popular HTC Vive trackers, with a 33 percent smaller footprint. Similarly, Megadodo Simulation Games’ Decamove hip tracker is a simple, easy-to-install substitute for complicated body-tracking setups.
Ease of use is also becoming a key concern, as conventional body trackers require difficult-to-set-up base stations that may put off potential VR users. Companies are tackling this with more elegant alternatives: Japanese IoT company Shiftall’s HaritoraX motion tracking device detects waist and leg movements, all within a self-contained system designed to last for up to 10 hours of use. US crowdfunding platform Crowd Supply’s SlimeVR tracker is an open hardware solution that enables full body tracking with as little as five body trackers, without the need for any additional hardware.
How you can action this: design for convenience. Explore ways to miniaturise body trackers and reduce the need for them through the use of imaging algorithms such as forward kinematics (mathematical equations to calculate joint positions in relation to one another).
On the back of the success of popular VR fitness apps such as Beat Saber and Supernatural, fitness companies are joining the metaverse buzz with home gym products that offer social experiences within virtual worlds.
With gamified fitness and smart fitness tech already gaining traction with consumers, the metaverse adds another dimension to exercise and will be a natural extension of these trends. Major tech companies are investing heavily in metaverse fitness: Meta has acquired Within, the maker of Supernatural, and has launched Meta Active Pack, a set of fitness-focused accessories designed to turn its Quest 2 headset into gym equipment.
Fitness brands are also racing to create metaverse-ready fitness tech. Hong Kong-based health and fitness company OliveX’s Kara Smart Mirror comes with a built-in camera to track user motions and offers suggestions in real time. The company also recently revealed its partnership with Canadian open world platform The Sandbox in the creation of OliveX Fitness Metaverse, a virtual world that offers users digital currency for working out.
Companies developing tech for other sports are also joining the metaverse. US cycling app Zwift is planning on releasing an indoor bike as a companion to its online platform, which simulates cycling with friends on virtual cycling routes.
How you can action this: consumers are finding value in indoor workouts but still desire the social interaction that group workouts provide. Blend the best of both with metaverse fitness tech that enables social workouts and gamified challenges.
Author : Ping Neo, Consumer Tech Analyst at WGSN
*Disclaimer: The views and opinion expressed in the article belong solely to the original author and do not represent the views, opinions and position of Retail in Asia.