The history of killer apps is fascinating because each time one is discovered it can entirely change how we use a device or gadget. The first documented killer app was the Visicalc spreadsheet for the Apple II computer. Released in 1979 it was such a compelling tool that people bought the computer just so they could use the software.
The same thing happened to the IBM PC when the spreadsheet Lotus 1-2-3 and word processor WordStar were released. These business tools were so important that users went and bought the hardware they needed to use them.
More recently, software such as Netscapeâ€™s Navigator made it easy to browse the web in 1994 and in the late nineties Napster made it easy to share music online. Time and time again, software can influence the hardware we all use and change how people behave and interact.
The most recent example where this was expected to happen was the metaverse. For the past few years Mark Zuckerbergâ€™s company, Meta, has been investing tens of billions of dollars into the idea that the next iteration of the internet will be immersive and visual. We will all need to use the Meta Quest headset as we all use our iPhones today.
According to the Wall Street Journal, however, Â the plan has failed to reach its goals. Meta had expected to have 500,000 regular users of its flagship metaverse environment â€˜Horizon Worldsâ€™ by the end of 2022, yet the reality is less than 200,000. Almost all users that try it donâ€™t last more than a month. The number of users is declining, rather than growing. Even Meta employees donâ€™t use it.
Considering that over 5 billion people now regularly use the internet, this is disappointing. Whatever does come next will need to meet the requirements of billions of users.
Cost is one major factor. A Meta headset is likely to set you back over $1,000 so you need to be a committed early adopter to really want to experience the metaverse at present.
However, I think there is a more important reason – there is no killer app. If you look at the original launch ad for Horizon Worlds it features people beekeeping in a virtual world, cooking Japanese food, and playing golf. When Mark Zuckerberg appeared in some demo videos he was playing cards with friends in a gravity-free environment and talking of being able to hang out with friends online.
Nobody has ever said that they want to get home from a tough day at work to then pull on a VR headset and spend the evening farming virtual honey from virtual bees. Everyone that does enjoy socialising online usually has a specific reason to be in whatever system they are using – usually a game like Roblox or Fortnite where you can play and talk to friends at the same time.
These are games. People have a reason to be in that environment because they want to play the game. The metaverse, as it exists, hasÂ no strong purpose. It costs a lot to participate and there is nothing pulling people in and saying â€˜you have to be a part of this.â€™ Do peopleÂ really wants to go online to just hang out?
However, there is one idea that I believe may be important for companies like Meta – the workplace.
Modern work is more fragmented than it was before the pandemic. Now itâ€™s common to have people working from the office, from home, from a cafe or airport, and everyone is on the same team and connected using various business tools such as Slack or Teams.
At SensÃ©e we use LiveDesk to bring our teams together. It is effectively a metaverse, a virtual office, where people can see their colleagues, work with them or just socialise with them. It creates a much stronger sense of the team working together as one.
This doesnâ€™t require VR headsets, but then our team probably would not enjoy having to wear one all day. Many people experience nausea from motion sickness when using them anyway.
A digital workspace like LiveDesk reflects how people are working in the 2020s. We are rarely sitting side by side with colleagues today – often we may be working alongside colleagues that are not even in the same country. However, if we can see them in our shared virtual office then the team building becomes real.
Perhaps the digital workspace will be the saviour of the metaverse concept, but then it could be Microsoft with their Teams and LinkedIn platforms that beats Meta to the initial business-focused market. Only time will tell.
We already have our own solution and we know that when clients see it they canâ€™t understand how remote work can be managed any other way. Perhaps the digital workspace is the spreadsheet of the 2020s? The killer app that will help people become used to operating in virtual worlds. It certainly isnâ€™t going to be a game of virtual table tennis or beekeeping.