Dubai: The 5-day Gitex Global 2022 event just completed its third day, and over the past three days, major announcements have been made by UAE government entities and companies based here about their entry into the metaverse.
But, what does it mean for residents on a daily basis? For this, we look at what the metaverse is, and what it means for people using it on a day-to-day basis.
What is it?
Knowing about the metaverse in 2022 is comparable to hearing about the internet in the 70s. And just like the internet, ‘metaverse’ is a broad term. It generally refers to shared virtual world environments that people can access via the internet. In the metaverse, Virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI) can make your day-to-day internet-based applications seem life-like.
For example, instead of trying out clothes physically in a store, or choosing them online based on pictures, you ‘try’ them out virtually. Instead of visiting the doctor directly, you can ‘visit’ the hospital and interact with your doctor in the metaverse. Instead of visiting a government office or their website you can use their metaverse to make payments or use this service.
As Nick Clegg, President, Global Affairs at Meta wrote, “It [Metaverse] is the next generation of the internet — a more immersive, 3D experience. Its defining quality will be a feeling of presence, like you are right there with another person or in another place.”
So what is web3?
It is, quite literally, web3 – as in the third version of the web. After webpages and HTML text of web1, to blogs, internet pathways and social media platforms on web2, comes web3 – non-fungible tokens and cryptocurrencies.
Metaverse, with web3, is a place where 3D avatars can spend money, play games and conduct real-world business. However, just like the internet in the 70s, it is a work in progress and building blocks are being added every day. While the possibilities on Metaverse are seemingly endless, as of now, it is still just early stages for day-to-day applications.
What can I do on the Metaverse?
As of now, the most developed sector in the metaverse is gaming, with entire virtual game worlds being built and used by millions of users.
Banks and financial institutions can find multiple purposes for being in the metaverse. From detailed virtual customer interactions and employee relations, to marketing to a new generation of customers, the possibilities are manifold.
A blog in Accenture states that the metaverse, despite being completely virtual, ‘provides banks with a much-needed avenue to bring humanity back into banking and deepen connections with current customers...’
The idea would be that one day you could do everything related to banking, from opening an account to using money for big-ticket investments on the metaverse. So, you could meet your financial advisor, explore homes or other assets, withdraw money and make purchases – all in the metaverse from the comfort of your home. As of now, most banking entrants to the metaverse are using the capabilities for marketing their products and their tech capabilities.
Commercial Bank International, a corporate and retail bank headquartered in Dubai, announced the official launch of their Metaverse location. The bank claimed to be the first UAE bank to have a presence in the Metaverse. During Gitex Global, the bank will show use cases in the Xverse space at the event.
Launched during Gitex Global, ‘e& universe’ by the UAE telecom giant e& (formerly Etisalat) will be hosted virtually on Mars. Specifically at the ‘Arcadia Planitia’. During Gitex, e& showcased two specific applications in their metaverse – one being social networking. For this, e& partnered with SK Telecom to create a Metaverse Service which will take visitors through multiple virtual spaces and unique avatars. The second use case in collaboration with Huawei, gives insight into the virtual retail space, where visitors can enter the virtual world of etisalat through e&’s business centre.
The other telecom giant here, du, is working with the RTA on a digital twinning project for the Dubai Metro. “Another potential use we see happening is in creating interactive workplaces for enterprises – all real-world needs, as you can see,” Martin Tarr, Chief ICT Officer, du told Gulf News.
On Wednesday, Medcare Women & Children Hospital in Dubai announced their entry to the metaverse, laying claim to be the UAE’s first healthcare facility to do so. For Medcare, Alisha Moopen, Deputy Managing Director, Aster DM Healthcare told Gulf News, “We expect in the long-run, traditional ‘telemedicine’ services to be replaced by a need for Metaverse interactions, allowing patients to receive a more tangible and collaborative service.”
Other than teleconsultations, healthcare-related metaverse applications include virtual study options. Imagine surgical teams learning new procedures without having to be physically in the same operating room – this is what the future of metaverse in healthcare looks like according to The Accenture Digital Health Technology Vision 2022 report.
For inpatient services such as child birth, major operations or long-term hospice care, the metaverse could help customers check out facilities, meet doctors and interact with them before making the final decision to choose a certain hospital – all without stepping a foot out of one’s home.
Events and entertainment
The metaverse is perfect for entertainment and events, and many artists and organisations have used the virtual space for performances. And a theme park? Definitely possible, at least according to Walt Disney, who announced intentions to build one in the metaverse in a few years.
The major platforms that host concerts in the metaverse: Decentraland, Roblox, The Sandbox, Fortnite and Horizon Worlds. Grimes, Deadmau5, Travis Scott, Post Malone, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish are among the big names who have had metaverse concerts.
Shopping and fashion
The idea for retailers, a BBC report said in July, is that your avatar can pop into a metaverse clothing or furniture shop, and buy items to be sent to you in the real world. Or, you could treat your avatar to a new item of computerised clothing.
In a step towards this idea, Ikea launched an AR-enabled service on their Place app. You can ‘delete’ your existing furniture to view IKEA pieces in their place. Additionally, IKEA launched fifty 3D showrooms that allow consumers to virtually peruse its catalog and try out featured products in their AR simulated rooms.
In an example, Ralph Lauren partnered Zepeto, a South Korean social network app, to enable users to dress avatars from a selection of products, like a virtual fashion collection.
For fashion brands, the metaverse opens up access to millions of visitors for the right kind of engagement. For now, many fashion houses are collaborating with metaverse developers to take advantage of existing platforms such as gaming or NFTs (non-fudgible tokens).
The first ever Metaverse Fashion Week was held in March in the virtual world of Decentraland. Tommy Hilfiger, Dolce&Gabbana, Elie Saab, Guo Pei, Etro, Jacob & Co, Vogue Arabia, Dundas, Cavalli, Paco Rabanne, Hogan and FEWOCiOUS are some of the brands who participated in the show.
Italian fashion and design school Istituto Marangoni made its Middle Eastern debut in Dubai with a unique talent show at the landmark Museum of the Future. The talent show took place simultaneously at The Museum of the Future and in the metaverse where avatars joined real-life models on the catwalk.
The future is here, almost
The Dubai Metaverse Strategy aims to turn Dubai into one of the world’s top 10 metaverse economies as well as a global hub for the metaverse community. The plan also promotes Dubai’s ambitions to support more than 40,000 virtual jobs by 2030. The UAE’s Ministry of Economy has already set up shop in the metaverse, and so has Dubai’s DEWA.
As you would feel comparing the concept of the internet in the 70s, to the real-world use of the internet now - the daily real-world applications of the metaverse may still be a few years away. For now, however, the UAE is playing host to, and encouraging, innovators who are making major headway in this new tech-enabled universe.