While ABI Research has been directly covering the metaverse for a couple years now, our coverage of the underlying technologies and markets stretches further back—research into Extended Reality (XR), for example, started in 2015. The metaverse is a confluence of markets and technologies that bring together the virtual and real worlds, and despite building upon many pre-existing trends, is still very much in its infancy. There are technological developments and standards that must be addressed, as well as education, before widespread adoption of immersive technologies will occur. Whether it’s for entertainment purposes or to provide business value, there are many ways to leverage the metaverse. As momentum continues to develop for immersive technologies, here are some of the most beneficial metaverse use cases and applications for various industries.
Metaverse Customer Segments
The metaverse market can be split into two broad customer segments: consumer and enterprise (industrial can be viewed as a subset or a separate, third segmentation). The consumer segment, which receives the most mainstream attention, despite a more advanced industrial metaverse, speaks to the transition from Two-Dimensional (2D) to Three-Dimensional (3D) content, services, and applications. This segment includes modifications to digital Identity (ID) and user data, the advent of digital asset ownership, and more immersive online experiences. Key use cases for the metaverse in the consumer segment include gaming, fitness, social networking, e-commerce, remote learning, tourism, etc.
Enterprises use Business-to-Business (B2B) metaverse platforms to improve synergy between work teams, maximize productivity, and reduce operational costs. Using Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual Reality (VR) Head-Mounted Displays (HMDs), employees can interact with each other in immersive, 3D environments such as a Virtual Headquarters (HQ) or virtual events (e.g., webinars). Users have digital avatars as their metaverse counterpart. In the industrial & manufacturing world, the metaverse can be used for remote assistance, guided workflows, and digital twin/simulation applications. Regardless of enterprise type, the metaverse has immense potential to augment employee training and improve customer service engagements.
With the metaverse segments properly identified, here’s how these customers can use metaverse products and services. While there are numerous ways consumers, enterprises, and industries can use the metaverse, the scope of this article covers the most prolific applications. Besides identifying these use cases, we also share the current status of each one, what is needed for adoption to grow, and the business cases/outcomes of each metaverse use case.
Examples of Consumer Use Cases in the Metaverse
In this section, I identify six use cases of the consumer metaverse that our analysts expect to be commonplace in the future.
VR/AR gaming is still far less mature than other gaming mediums. Not only is the gaming industry not ready for the shift to the metaverse and 3D asset ownership, but VR/AR video games and platforms do not have the level of interoperability required to become a flourishing market.
Metaverse technology vendors must provide compatibility for assets and digital IDs to create that personal touch that bridges the emotional tie between the consumer and their virtual avatar. By supporting the sale of interoperable virtual assets, the value of said assets will increase. As a result, gaming users will be more likely to keep coming back to these platforms and spend their money purchasing goods and services.
Fitness use cases already have a high user rate for VR HMDs, enabling digital workout classes and gamification. This high user base makes fitness ripe for metaverse opportunities. Exercise machines, which use streaming video and biometrics, can be integrated with digital twins of users in the future metaverse to improve outcomes. For this metaverse application to work, it’s essential that the digital twin matches the health records/needs of the user.
Companies responding to this demand for immersive workouts should develop VR devices tailor-made for fitness applications. For example, a sweat-resistant VR headset would be a great brand differentiation.
Generative AI can be applied to the metaverse fitness applications to customize workout programs for each user. Thus, personalized content will better resonate with consumers, which will keep revenue flowing steadily. Finally, the additional user data can create additional revenue potential (e.g., recommended meal plans, accessories and equipment, etc.).
Social Networking and Communications
Digital advertising, new user behavior analytics, and emerging business models are notable ways to use the metaverse for social networking and communications. Stronger bonds—through digital IDs and digital content/services management—will create increased value for consumers. Meanwhile, XR-based social networking will unlock new types of data and information tied to digital ID management. Further, metaverse applications for social networking will stimulate new types of business models to materialize, such as virtual influencers, 3D content creation, marketplaces, etc.
XR platforms, to date, have struggled to make headway on social platforms due to low user bases, as well as issues surrounding monetization and user safety. Before the market reaches an inflection point, ABI Research assesses that social media users must become more accustomed to 3D platforms. Notably, vendors should focus on bringing 3D content to non-XR devices to build significant awareness of the value of these technologies. Building safer, more immersive, and interoperable platforms will raise the perceived value of the aforementioned use cases, in addition to the monetary value of digital assets.
Virtual E-Commerce and Shopping
Virtual try on and virtual storefronts were a common metaverse use case during the pandemic, but have lost traction in the post-pandemic world. However, this was a taste of the future of retail; being able to sell and bundle virtual assets is set to be one of the biggest incentives for businesses to support the metaverse. A recent survey also indicated that virtually testing or trying products is one of the most exciting metaverse features that consumers are looking forward to.
Virtual e-commerce will improve the overall customer experience through mobile AR for personalized promotions, digital humans for in-store customer support, and virtual asset purchases. From ABI Research’s perspective, offering these types of immersive experiences will prepare the consumer base for the full-fledged metaverse flavor of e-retail.
Education and eLearning
While still out of the mainstream, education will be a strong growth driver for the metaverse. So far, VR-based medical training applications have dominated this space at universities. Gamification VR applications also hold immense potential in learning outcomes. As VR HMD prices come down, the shift to the metaverse will begin to accelerate.
Reducing the price of VR devices will require manufacturers to concentrate on modular designs (e.g., upgradeable compute) and low-cost tethered devices. At the same time, it’s also advisable for virtual/3D content providers to target traditional end-user devices and to penetrate the education sector.
Using the metaverse for education has the following benefits:
- Deliver quality education to communities that contend with fewer resources, educators, and facilities
- Provide a remote learning environment that more closely mimics the social interactivity expected in a classroom
- Potentially reduce operational costs for educational institutions by requiring fewer teachers for more students
- Promote sustainable practices by reducing the carbon footprint with less travel and waste from paper materials, books, classroom supplies, etc.
Once newer hardware and technologies such as volumetric capture are iterated and better standardized, virtual tourism will be an interesting metaverse use case to watch. The use of smart glasses will allow audiences to virtually “visit” landmarks, museums, and other tourist attractions. Therefore, the tourism industry can create new business models, expand their target audience, and offer value-added services such as personalized information.
Placing tourism in the metaverse can create a digital economy. This digital economy will increase revenue potential 3as virtual souvenirs, etc. can be sold to consumers. Overall, virtual tourism makes tourism accessible to more people and removes the need for physical travel.
Examples of Enterprise and Industrial Use Cases in the Metaverse
Next, we’ll evaluate six ways that enterprises and industrial firms will take advantage of metaverse technologies in work environments.
Immersive Communication and Collaboration (C&C)
3D avatars included on communication platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom hint at the shift to future metaverse environments, whereby immersion is a main theme. Smartphones, tablets, and PCs will be the primary electronic devices used to facilitate immersive C&C applications before the broader adoption of XR devices. Enterprises can expect benefits such as:
- Improved workflows and efficiencies by being able to virtually share the progress of a project and discuss plans with clients/remote colleagues
- Lower costs and carbon footprint due to fewer travel requirements
- Compilation of past meetings and previous versions of work projects will add an extra layer of transparency
- Creation of immersive hybrid workspaces that can connect in-office and remote employees in a more interactive manner
Instead of paying a technician to travel to a site and fix an issue, carmakers, industrial operators, and other enterprises can leverage remote assistance through an XR, mobile, or PC interface. Remote assistance is one of the earliest use cases for the metaverse, but the high cost of private 5G deployments and limited XR device availability are potential limiting factors for providing the best user experiences.
As pointed out in the whitepaper Field Service And Augmented Reality Is A Perfect Match, AR-based remote assistance brings faster troubleshooting, reduced downtime, and greater operational efficiency. For example, Deyaar Facilities Management (FM) brought its customer support to another level by leveraging TeamViewer’s AR-based remote assistance solution Frontline xAssist. Instead of simply aiding clients in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) via telephone and meetings, Deyaar FM technicians can use features such as a live pointer, remote camera control, and screen/file sharing to streamline the support process.
Our analysts see remote assistance applications as one of the most significant drivers for the metaverse, given how often maintenance must be conducted and the cost savings made due to less travel.
As the chart below shows, the manufacturing and logistics industries lead the way in terms of AR remote assistance users.
(Source: ABI Research)
Enterprises within many industries are using the metaverse to train their employees in a more interactive and safer way via AR/VR—training is currently among the most cited use cases for XR and metaverse in enterprise and industrial markets. AR/VR employee training has already shown its ability to reduce training time and improve learning retention. These immersive use cases let employees attend a virtual environment so they can practice skills needed on the job. A surgeon, for example, can realistically test his or her skills without any risk to a real patient. Or in hazardous industrial environments, employees can practice on-the-job training safely by using AR/VR smart glasses.
A notable example of using VR in employee training comes from Walmart. Through its Walmart Academy training program, employees use VR devices to engage in scenarios that they can expect to encounter in the store. That way, Walmart staff—managers, customer service representatives, floor sales teams, etc.—will be better prepared to handle various tasks, such as handling high demand on Black Friday.
To facilitate the smoother use of the metaverse for employee training, XR hardware improvements must be made. XR devices and applications need to heighten the realism factor and extend usage time per training beyond the standard 30 minutes or less.
Training employees through the metaverse has similar benefits as using the metaverse for education and eLearning. The advantages of AR/VR training include reduced equipment costs, reduced transport costs, increased number of workers that can be trained, and overall improved efficiency.
Another key application of the industrial metaverse is guided workflows. Using an AR or mobile device, workers can perform tasks as they view a hands-free virtual interface that provides instructions. To identify potential mistakes and ensure quality work, computer vision can be integrated into these metaverse applications.
However, the biggest hindrance to more widespread use of XR-enabled guided workflows is the weight of current devices. In many cases, users require an external battery to ensure the XR device is functional for the required period of time. The added weight can cause strain and discomfort to workers, which negatively impacts performance.
Besides waiting around for battery innovations, companies should consider a private cellular network to offload portions of compute power from HMDs. Alternatively, mobile devices can support metaverse features, assuming that the application works smoothly without the need for the worker to use both hands.
Digital humans will be an integral part of the future metaverse shopping experience. Compared to traditional AI chatbots, digital humans from companies like UneeQ provide a highly immersive experience for customers trying to learn more about a product or service. This use case, supported with XR devices, will build improved brand loyalty as customers will appreciate the added level of personal touch.
It should be stated that not all customer service scenarios will necessarily benefit from a digital human/avatar. For best practice, businesses should plan to leverage these technologies for customer-facing situations that are complex and require a deeper understanding of a technical area. Businesses that deploy a digital human for customer service will come away with the following potential benefits:
- Improved Return on Investment (ROI) and customer support outcomes
- More opportunities to cross-sell/upsell products and services
- Improved brand loyalty and stickiness through a personalized customer experience
- Increased recurring revenue from better informed customers
Metaverse technology companies must ensure that the outcomes of their virtual assistant can provide business outcomes that far outdo a typical Frequently Asked Questions (FQAs) section and AI chatbots. If there is no clear differentiation and perceived value, there will be will no incentive for businesses to purchase the solution.
Digital Twins and Simulations
Digital twin and simulation software is already intertwined with various pre-existing solutions, making it the most well-developed metaverse use case in industry. While simulation is a well-established use case in the industrial world, digital twins are maturing and ROI remains a focal point.
ABI Research expects even more growth for digital twins and simulations as new industries are formed. Whether it’s sustainability or optimized planning/design, various industries will benefit from realistic simulation and experimentation with a virtual replica of real-world objects, processes, machines, etc. These applications will result in reduced production costs, operations automation, predictive maintenance, better business/operation planning, improved social responsibility, and more.
To better support industries, cloud computing and standardization are key considerations for the metaverse technology ecosystem. Cloud computing will make digital twin/simulation software more accessible to budget-friendly firms, and standardization across data, platforms, and taxonomies is a must to tie together multiple digital twins, work process, and third-party data sources.
Key Considerations for Metaverse Technology Companies
One of the key themes you may have identified in this article is that digital markets are still not quite ready for the future metaverse. Hardware limitations and the lack of education among enterprises and consumers has dampened the previous hype for the metaverse. For these reasons, ABI Research believes it is essential that technology providers support metaverse use cases on non-XR devices such as mobile devices and PCs. We expect the installed base for XR devices to still be less than 500 million by 2030, compared to billions on mobile devices. At least for this early stage of the metaverse, these devices are going to be the primary medium for which users will access virtual 3D environments.
Supporting these traditional devices will directly solve the lack of education on how the metaverse provides value or entertainment for consumers and productivity gains for enterprises/industrial firms. Mobile devices and PCs are a staple in the daily lives of consumers and employees. Bringing immersive technologies to these devices that most people already use will open their eyes to the potential for metaverse applications. As users become more accustomed to virtual environments through this decade, the idea of a full-fledged future metaverse will not seem so alien to them. Therefore, marketing future metaverse products and services will have a more profound impact on the intended target audience.