Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has rendered the metaverse meaningful to both Main Street and Wall Street by changing the name of his company to Meta. Suddenly, virtual reality and avatars seem like table stakes for participating in the digital economy.
Even before Facebook’s name change, the metaverse was getting a lot of attention from acclaimed tech investor Matthew Ball, one of the keynote guests at MWC21 Los Angeles. Ball has noted hardware for the metaverse falls into two categories: consumer-facing hardware and the enterprise hardware used to build and run virtual worlds.
Right now, Meta is not a huge player in either of these markets, but that appears to be changing. On 5 November, The New York Times reported Meta is discussing plans to open physical retail stores to introduce consumers to virtual and augmented reality devices.
Meta’s Oculus virtual reality headset is perhaps the best-known of these devices. The company is also working with Ray-Ban to develop smart glasses. The app that will control those devices recently provided a clue about what could be another major Meta device.
In late October, app developer Steve Moser discovered a picture of a smart watch within the app that will control Meta’s smart glasses. He sent the pictures to Bloomberg, which reported the watch can be detached from its wrist strap, and includes something most smart watches do not: a camera.
Apple and Samsung have both experimented with watch cameras in the past, but have never included one in a commercial watch.
IDC research director Ramon Llamas sees the Meta watch’s camera as a defining feature. “The big thing for me on this is the two-way camera since no one seems to be doing that at the moment,” he told Mobile World Live. “It aligns with how people are communicating via FaceTime, Zoom, or Google Duo.”
It also aligns with the idea of projecting oneself as an avatar. Anshel Sag, Moor Insights & Strategy principal analyst – smartphones, wireless, PC, 5G & XR, thinks “wearables are going to be one of the ways that users will be able to interact with the metaverse of the future.”
“Facebook is doing a lot of research in the space around using EMG [Electromyography] and using thoughts about wrist movement to allow a user to control an interface,” Sag told Mobile World Live. “While there may be some pushback for a Meta wearable, there may also be some significant health tie-ins since the company just acquired Within, the studio that makes the popular Oculus VR exclusive workout app Supernatural. So, there are multiple reasons why Meta would go forward with such a smart watch and they all seem quite likely in the near term.”
Sag is more sanguine about a Meta watch launch than IDC’s Llamas, who dubbed the prototype “still an idea at this point”. Llamas thinks that idea will turn into an actual product if tests show consumers preferring the convenience of a watch to a smartphone, headset or other device.
“Convenience trumps all,” he said. “If you can save a consumer time and steps to doing something – especially communication – then they may opt for something other than the status quo.”
It’s hard to think about continually raising the wrist to eye level to video chat or interact with the metaverse. Looking down into a tiny watch camera could also be awkward.
But Bloomberg notes the Meta watch can be detached from the wrist strap. Perhaps the company foresees us interacting with the metaverse by clipping the device to something stable. Hopefully this will not be the dashboard of our car.
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.