Metaverse Evolution Will Be Phased; Here’s What It Means for Tech Product Strategy

April 08, 2022

Contributor: Tuong Nguyen, Adrian Lee and Anushree Verma

The metaverse will evolve across three overlapping phases and won’t be fully mature before 2030, but tech product leaders must start to evaluate the opportunities now.

In short:

  • The metaverse will evolve across three overlapping phases: emerging, advanced and mature. 
  • Distinctive shifts in technology, markets and products/services will characterize each phase.
  • Tech product leaders must not wait to act until the metaverse is fully mature. Strategic advantage depends on evaluating the opportunities for providing interaction capabilities, content and infrastructure now. 

The metaverse won’t be mature before 2030, but its potential to change how individuals and organizations interact with one another and the world around them is so enormous that technology product and service providers already need a strategy. We recommend evaluating the opportunities in interaction, content (interoperability) and infrastructure — starting now.

We expect three overlapping metaverse phases: emerging, advanced and mature. In developing their strategy, tech product leaders need to evaluate the growth and trajectory of the emerging technologies and trends that enable metaverse experiences at each stage. 

As during other periods of technological advancement (e.g., Industrial Revolution, mainframe era, PC era, mobile era), a new set of technology providers will potentially displace some from the previous era. But every organization will need to target its competitive position in the evolving landscape. 

Watch Gartner experts discuss: Immediate and Future Metaverse Opportunities for Product Leaders

The Metaverse will evolve in three overlapping phases, from emerging to advanced and then mature.

Strategic metaverse objectives for tech product leaders

We expect that ultimately, there will be only one metaverse in the same sense that there’s only one internet. No single company will own, control or develop all the necessary technology or build its own metaverse or the metaverse as a whole. 

The objective for tech product leaders, then, is to understand the metaverse’s evolutionary path and, in response, take some key steps:

  • Build metaverse products and solutions by generating a pipeline of innovation based on combinatorial emergent technologies, such as spatial computing, rather than a single “killer app.”
  • Identify metaverse-inspired opportunities by evaluating current high-value use cases, such as gaming, wayfinding and navigation apps, and virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) experiences, vis-a-vis your product or service.
  • Extend collaboration to support metaverse experiences by proactively engaging with or creating an ecosystem of standards, content and service delivery partners to address the developing aspects of the metaverse.
  • Prepare for business model transformation by assessing trends, such as superapps, composable pricing and API monetization.

Download now: The Top 3 Strategic Priorities for Tech CEOs

Evolution of products and services in each metaverse phase

As immersive content created for today’s devices becomes accessible via the metaverse and is supplemented by content designed specifically for it, metaverse solutions will support and eventually subsume numerous existing technologies. 

We’re currently in the initial emerging stage of the metaverse — in effect developing “premetaverse” solutions. Each stage presents opportunities to provide interaction capabilities, content and infrastructure across:

  • Technologies (functionalities) required to build the metaverse
  • Market characteristics, which will be completely upended in a fully peer-to-peer (P2P) environment
  • Products and services needed to deliver on the attributes of a fully functioning metaverse and which are integral to enabling new markets and business models

While the metaverse will take time to evolve, market leaders will aggressively target future opportunities from now on; they won’t wait for the metaverse to mature before acting.

Technology Characteristics of Metaverse Evolution

 

Evolution Phase

 

Emerging

Advanced

Mature

Interaction Layer

Smart devices, siloed apps and experiences

Multimodal interfaces, immersive (AR/Mixed reality/VR) experiences

Device independent, advanced virtual assistants, smart spaces

Content Layer

Social networks, games, e-commerce, development tools, sensor technologies, Internet of Things (IoT)

Geoposed and persistent data, digital currencies and tokens, digital experience platforms (DXPs), environmental mapping

Graph technologies, spatial data integration

Infrastructure Layer

Web3, wireless connectivity, multiplayer platforms

Edge cloud services, blockchain, digital spatial protocols

Spatial registries, P2P services, high-bandwidth/ low-latency networking, interoperability frameworks

Market opportunities in each metaverse phase

For tech product and service leaders, different types of opportunities exist in the interaction/interface, content and infrastructure layers at each phase of metaverse evolution.

Metaverse Phase 1: Emerging 

Through 2024, direct opportunities will be limited. The market is beginning to explore and experiment with applications and use cases with high, long-term value. Most future use cases showing potential metaverse value are inspired by current use cases (e.g., AR for frontline work and VR for high-consequence scenarios) and provide incremental value. 

The majority of opportunities will be driven by technologies that are either indirectly or not explicitly meant to create the metaverse (e.g., environmental mapping for robotics and autonomous navigation), but will nonetheless contribute to the combinatorial trend in later stages. 

With a relatively lower barrier to entry, the interface layer is likely to see most action, but we suspect many vendors and enterprises will obsess over the idea of the “killer app” under the erroneous assumption that there is one application or use case that will inspire mass adoption.

Metaverse Phase 2: Advanced

Between 2024 and 2027, more direct opportunities for the metaverse will arise. Many of these will focus on the content layer — data, information and foundation (noninfrastructure) of the metaverse itself. Examples are tools and technologies to map and understand the physical environment, as well as democratize the creation of virtual environments. 

Other examples include technologies that help analyze the relationships and process between physical items, digital content, and the physical and digital. This new content, the interaction with and between the content, and the understanding of it, will drive early combinatorial technology innovation. This innovation will also inspire fresh business models to handle these new applications and interactions. At the tail end of this stage, we expect to see early infrastructure opportunities specific to the metaverse, such as interoperability frameworks, protocols and registries for the spatial web.

Metaverse Phase 3: Mature

From 2028 onward, the vision and potential for the metaverse will become much clearer and easier to manage for both organizations and individual users. Advances will build on inspirational use cases and applications discovered in phase 2 and reinforced by the maturation of adjacent technologies (such as 5G, computer vision, immersive tech and digital currencies). 

As such, the aspects and functionalities of the systems required to make a mature metaverse possible will be widely understood. This will open up significant opportunities in the infrastructure layer, and vendors will compete to create the backbone of a transformational and potentially ubiquitous system.

Next steps for product leaders

Product leaders evaluating the growth and impact of emerging technologies and trends that enable metaverse experiences should evaluate metaverse opportunities in three ways:

  • Via the metaverse evolution spectrum to decide at which stage to enter the market for a strategic advantage
  • As a mix of interaction, content and infrastructure opportunities
  • In terms of the features and functionalities enabled by the technologies outlined in market subsegments, including, for example, devices and browsers in the interaction layer, cryptocurrencies and graphics tools in content, and edge computing and P2P networks in infrastructure.

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