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Meta + Microsoft – The Formula for VR Success in Business?

It’s too early to declare the Metaverse dead. It’s obviously had some setbacks, but as we move towards the end of the year, recent announcements indicate the Metaverse, at least in terms of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), is back on the rise.

The two most significant developments this year come from Apple and Meta. Apple finally announced their foray into AR/VR with their Apple Vision Pro headset, which I wrote about here, and Meta recently made several announcements around their new flagship VR device, the Meta Quest 3. While most of the attention focused on consumer use and gaming, Meta did slip in some significant developments pertaining to business use that are worthy of note and a deeper dive.


Meta’s Got Microsoft Integration

The most interesting announcements center around integrating with the Microsoft ecosystem, not just the upcoming support for XBOX cloud gaming, but also in the enterprise.

In the first announcement, Meta shared that Microsoft Mesh for Teams was now in “public preview.” Mesh is a 3D immersive meeting space where Teams users can gather to collaborate, attend a presentation, or walk around and mingle with other meeting participants. Teams users can join a Mesh event by one of three methods. The first, and easiest method, will be to simply join the meeting as a video only participant via their Teams app. Video meeting participants will be able to see the avatars of VR attendees and will show up on a virtual screen in VR along with the other video-only participants. The experience will be similar to joining a hybrid meeting where some users are in a conference room in real life and others are remote on a screen. The second method would be to download the Mesh app and join the meeting as a 2D avatar. This experience is similar to a video game where you can navigate your avatar around the VR space and interact with other attendees. The third method would be to join via VR with the Mesh app, giving users the full immersive experience VR offers.

Apps like Mesh have been around for several years, but integrating Mesh into Microsoft Teams is a big deal for VR. Joining Mesh through the Teams app will be a “gateway” experience, where users will begin to see the benefits of meeting in VR for specific interactions. My own journey into VR started with joining meetings in AltspaceVR from a PC. (Altspace was acquired by Microsoft in 2017 and is now part of its Mixed Reality business division.) I could join 3D meetings, converse with people worldwide, and explore fantastic worlds. Still, it wasn’t immersive, and my avatar was very static, whereas users in full VR could move their hands in ways that make them more expressive. It made me want to be able to move my hands, which quickly led to the purchase of my first VR headset, the Oculus Go. And my journey into VR was underway.

Once users get a taste of VR via Teams, I believe most will want to go further and will don a VR headset for a more full-featured experience. This will be a massive driver for VR adoption, especially in the context of collaboration. The key will be for organizations and users to understand which types of meetings should be in VR and which types are best left to video. Generally, one-to-one and one-to-many meetings work well in applications like Teams, Webex, and Zoom. Many-to-many meetings don’t work well in these types of apps but excel in VR. The key here is to understand that VR won’t replace all video meetings, just as video meetings didn’t replace all in-person meetings or phone calls.

I’ve been testing the preview version of Mesh on my Quest 3 and noticed quickly that it is designed to be centered around events. At the risk of oversimplifying, the terminology points to the difference between planning a “meeting” in Teams Meetings and planning an “event” in Mesh. 

The second significant announcement concerning Microsoft involves the native integration of Microsoft Office apps on the Meta Quest 3. One easily understood VR use case is the ability to have multiple large-screen monitors anywhere you go. This will be a huge benefit for road warriors, who can carry their ultimate work experience with them for use on planes, trains, or at the hotel. This functionality exists today, but it requires a desktop or laptop to be present. Having the apps native on the device would mean you could travel with the headset without a laptop.

The third announcement takes this a step further with the introduction of Windows 365 running on the Meta Quest 3, giving users a fully virtualized Windows experience in VR. This would allow users to run any Windows application on their multiple monitor setup in VR without a local computer. 


Meet Meta Quest for Business

One of the most significant barriers to adopting Meta devices for enterprise use is deploying consumer devices in a business setting at scale. This is an enormous challenge for the industry and has been the number one requested business use problem for Meta to solve.

Finally, Meta is rolling out a proper enterprise management solution for their VR devices. Many VR projects don’t make it out of the pilot phase because of the challenges presented by not having enterprise management capabilities on these types of devices. Quest for Business should help organizations deploy VR securely and effectively at scale and help drive mass adoption. While specific details about Quest for Business’s enterprise admin tools were lacking, the company stated that this new service would provide user, device, and app controls on their devices along with enterprise-grade support. 

The combination of better device management, improved collaboration experiences, and Microsoft Office/Windows integration fills significant gaps that should propel VR forward in the business world in 2024 and beyond.