Facebook’s name change to Meta was undoubtedly the biggest news to come out of Facebook Connect 2021. The rebrand reflects the company’s shift to focusing on social connections through the metaverse, a virtual reality world where people interact via digital avatars. With the help of developers and content creators, its goal is to bring this immersive platform to life, using and integrating key technologies so that they are interoperable and accessible to all.

Sharing the vision in a letter, CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote, “Our hope is that within the next decade, the metaverse will reach a billion people, host hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce, and support jobs for millions of creators and developers.” In the metaverse, users will be able to do most things in real life, like meeting up with family and friends, learning new skills, collaborating with co-workers, playing games and attending events.

There will be more opportunities for creators and artists, for individuals who prefer to work remotely and for educators and students to go beyond traditional learning practices.

All these virtual activities can be experienced from the comfort of one’s home. By removing the need to commute, people can achieve more with their time. In Zuckerberg’s words, “this isn’t about spending more time on screens; it’s about making the time we already spend better.”

The company’s roadmap for creating the metaverse includes a product team formed specially to develop the next computing platform, as well as channeling resources to the building of AR and VR technologies. Announced in its 2021 third-quarter earnings report, Meta plans to spend about $10 billion USD on Facebook Reality Labs, the division tasked with creating its augmented and virtual reality hardware, software and content.

Developing “the next evolution” of social technology is well underway. Beta versions of Horizon Workrooms and Horizon Worlds, VR applications for work and play, were released over the last year.

Horizon Worlds, now open to anyone with a Quest 2 headset, has evolved from a platform for building games to more of a social hub offering interesting things that people can do. Horizon Workrooms, on the other hand, brings remote workers together in a virtual space for team-based activities.

A high-end, mixed-reality headset dubbed Project Cambria that Meta is working on will have capabilities that allow your virtual avatar to maintain eye contact and reflect your facial expressions in real time. Angela Chang, head of VR devices at Meta, promised that Cambria will offer “high-resolution, colored mixed reality passthrough” to bring the real world into the headset with a sense of “depth and perspective”.

Another product, codenamed Project Nazare, is consumer AR glasses. Described as the company’s “first full augmented glasses”, they will include “hologram displays, projectors, batteries, radios, custom silicon chips, cameras, speakers, sensors to map the world around you, and more.”

Polar, an upcoming iOS app powered by its augmented reality platform Spark AR Studio, allows users to build and share their own AR effects and filters directly on their mobile phones. Other new Spark AR features include body tracking capabilities via People AR, a world tracker for AR experiences that are geo-anchored to locations and improvements that will make it easier for users to build objects virtually to place in the real world.

Meta has acknowledged that crypto and NFTs need to be integrated in the metaverse community. On NFTs for example, people will feel more confident about owning these digital assets. Facebook Head of Metaverse Products Vishal Shah said , “This will make it easier for people to sell Limited Edition digital objects like NFTs, display them in their digital spaces and even resell them to the next person securely.”

These technologies aim to give people the ability to immerse themselves fully in the metaverse and express themselves naturally. According to Zuckerberg, “the defining quality of the metaverse will be a feeling of presence – like you are right there with another person or in another place.” Attaining true presence is “the ultimate dream of social technology” and this guides the company’s innovation of future apps and products .

Some experiences will be completely new. In the metaverse virtual space, users can teleport as a hologram to be at the office, concert venue or each other’s homes. Many physical things, such as TVs and computers, will be holograms designed by creators. Interacting with these virtual objects will be done through innovative products like augmented reality glasses or other types of screens. Traversing the metaverse will be supported by different devices and technical infrastructure.

At the Connect conference, Zuckerberg said, “From now on, we’re going to be metaverse-first, not Facebook-first.” Their businesses, including Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp and Oculus, will be run by Meta and to bring the metaverse to people, technologies built for the platform will be integrated into its social media apps and VR ecosystem.

To make the metaverse even more accessible, the company plans to sell its devices “at cost or subsidized” prices.

Zuckerberg said that the word “meta” is derived from the Greek word meaning “beyond” which aptly expresses the company’s ambitions to go beyond social media and move into the next chapter that involves building an “embodied internet”.

While Meta’s core mission is still about bringing people together, its products and services, designed around people’s needs, will pave the way for interactions in a fully-realized computer-generated world. The metaverse will offer endless possibilities and exciting opportunities. As Zuckerberg concluded in his Connect keynote speech, “the future is going to be beyond anything we can imagine.”.