Better Not to be Mobile Internet 2.0 – The New Stack

It’s been a year of new buzzwords in the web development community. “Web3” and “metaverse” are two of the most publicized and have fueled discussions on social networks. In either case, the technical meaning of these terms is unclear, but it doesn’t seem to matter in a bull market. I’ve looked at the Web3 hype before, so now I’m turning my attention to the meaning of the metaverse – and in particular, how developers can prepare for it.

Last August, I asked: what does it mean to be a developer in the Metaverse? As I wrote this column, Facebook was starting to talk more about its metaverse plans. But none of us knew that Facebook was going to pivot our entire business soon to become a Metaverse, going so far as to rebrand itself as Meta.

What is Meta currently running on?

Richard MacManus

Richard is editor-in-chief at The New Stack and writes a weekly column on web and app development trends. Previously, he founded ReadWriteWeb in 2003 and made it one of the most influential tech news and analysis sites in the world. Follow him on Twitter @ricmac.

So how is Meta going to build the Metaverse? While the technical details are hard to pin down at this point, we can get a feel for it by looking at recent versions of the Oculus Quest VR headset (soon to be rebranded as Meta Quest).

More interestingly, mixed reality has been added to the Oculus Quest 2 software – although it is only available to certain iPhone users (more on this shortly). Additionally, Meta added Facebook Messenger calling VR, cloud backup, and “personalizing your environment” in Horizon Workrooms (its VR workplace). All of these features can be seen as small steps towards the “metaverse”.

From a technical standpoint, the responsibility for building the Meta metaverse lies with Andrew (“Boz”) Bosworth, who will be Meta’s CTO going forward. Prior to that, he ran the Reality Labs at Facebook, which was the branch of the company Oculus depended on. Now that Meta is capitalizing on his vision for the Metaverse, Bosworth is becoming a central figure in the company (arguably second behind Zuckerberg himself). His new about page says he will lead “Meta’s efforts in augmented reality, virtual reality, AI and consumer hardware through Quest, Portal, Ray-Ban Stories and more.”

The list of things Bosworth is now leading indicates that Meta’s metaverse is currently made up of a scattered bunch of products and technologies, not entirely cohesive. No doubt everything will get better over time, but for now it’s a mess. For example, the Oculus Quest VR headset has very little in common with Portal, a kind of home tablet designed primarily for video calls. Still, they’re both likely to be key products of the Metaverse, since Bosworth is responsible for them.

In an interview with The Verge shortly after the Meta rebranding, Bosworth was asked how the Facebook news feed (which he co-invented) would fit into the Metaverse. “Before I can figure out how I should categorize content for you, I need to have content for you,” he replied. So currently Meta doesn’t even know what content in the metaverse will look like. We know it will not only be VR, but will also include augmented reality and ‘mixed reality’. But that’s all the detail we have right now.

Mobile Internet 2.0

From a developer perspective, one aspect of what Mark Zuckerberg announced in late October gives me reason to be concerned about Meta’s design of the Metaverse. When announcing the Pivot, Zuckerberg touted the Metaverse as “the successor to the mobile Internet“. Almost in the same breath, he explained how interoperability will be a key part of the Metaverse. The implication was that users will be able to easily switch from one metaverse platform to another with the same set of technologies (virtual reality headsets, augmented reality standards, etc.).

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg announcing the rebranding from Facebook to Meta.

The problem is that the mobile Internet has always suffered from poor interoperability. Again this year, I wrote about how iPhone users have restricted the functionality of PWAs (Progressive Web Apps) because Apple bans iOS external browser engines. As for Android users, sometimes they don’t even get a native app for the hottest apps – Instagram was famous for iOS only for eighteen months, before an Android version was released. Android users also had to wait over a year to join Clubhouse, a social audio app that had a moment in the sun earlier this year.

Indeed, as I mentioned above, Android users of the Oculus Quest headset are among the current victims of the mobile internet. The latest version of the Oculus Quest software, v35, requires an iPhone XS or higher to use the mixed reality feature.

The point is, the mobile Internet has never been fully interoperable. Besides the technical differences, the two major smartphone platforms (iOS and Android) are controlled – to one degree or another – by two large companies that compete with each other fiercely (Apple and Google).

In its founder’s annual letter, published the same day as the Meta rebranding, Zuckerberg wrote that the metaverse “will not be created by one company,” but will be “interoperable and unlock a creative economy massively larger than the limited one.” by today’s platforms and platforms. their policies.

These are calming words, but given the history of internet technology, there is a good chance that the metaverse will either become a monopoly or (like mobile internet) an oligopoly.

What Should Developers Focus On?

So let’s get back to the developers and how they can approach the metaverse. The reality is that the sky is completely blue right now – so the only practical way to access it is to buy an Oculus Quest (or other non-Meta VR headset, or AR tool) and experiment with creating it. ‘an “experiment” or a game for it. . There are also other platforms to experiment on – Niantic, Roblox, Nvidia and many more. Indeed, many of these alternatives are much more mature than Meta’s current set of VR / AR products and software.

The metaverse resembles the World Wide Web today in 1992, when Tim Berners-Lee and a small cohort of academics were trying to figure out how it would fit into wider culture. You couldn’t have predicted the likes of Facebook and Twitter in 1992, and likewise, you can’t predict what kind of metaverse apps will be part of the culture ten or fifteen years from now. As Bosworth noted, “A lot of the ideas we’ve had to develop on the web aren’t going to translate, and you have to completely rethink them. “

We can only hope that the metaverse looks less like the mobile internet than the web: open, decentralized, owned by no one. But given Meta’s market power, that future is largely in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg and Andrew Bosworth.

Main image: Andrew Bosworth at Facebook Connect 2021.

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