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What Role will Smartphones Play in the Development of the Metaverse?

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While we gear up for another year of metaverse hype, rapidly emerging technologies, and another flurry of Mark Zuckerberg taking the form of a Nintendo Wii avatar explaining how interconnected the future will be, it can often feel as though we’re forgetting about the smartphone in our grand visions for tomorrow.

Despite smartphones growing into arguably the most formidable and disruptive innovation of the 21st Century, our perceptions of the metaverse is so heavily based upon virtual, augmented, and mixed reality eyewear that smartphones barely have any place in our imaginations. 

But is this really the case? Let’s take a look at the role that smartphones are likely to play in the development of the metaverse: 

Will Smartphones be Replaced?

Although the metaverse is still many years away from reaching its potential, we’re already expecting it to take the form of an immersive environment that users are capable of throwing themselves into thanks to virtual reality headsets. Inside the metaverse, we can work, play with friends, shop, and communicate with anyone instantly. 

With Meta founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg claiming that ‘humans will live in the metaverse soon,’ it’s difficult to understand why we would need cellular devices at all when we have a 360-degree view of an entire interactive digital world around us. 

So, does this mean that the days of the smartphone are numbered? It could be a possibility. Despite putting us in touching distance of mind-boggling forms of media, smartphones can be impractically sized for many of our essential day-to-day activities. For instance, attending a teams call on a handheld device can be limiting, and it’s very difficult to watch TV or other forms of entertainment on their smaller screens. 

By embracing AR and VR technology, we can view objects and consume entertainment in a far more engaging way within the metaverse. The sheer volume of data that can be displayed within virtual worlds can grow exponentially with field-of-view digital canvases. We could even view the avatars of other users and see a heads-up-display of their characteristics, interests, and online behavior instantly to provide us with enough information regarding whether we would enjoy interacting with them. 

While the more distant future could challenge the hegemony of the smartphone, we may actually see our reliance on mobile devices grow in the early days of the metaverse, with smartphones set to play a key role in making the technology accessible. 

There have been many false dawns over the years when it comes to alternate reality technology, and the failure of Google Glass is likely to cause tech firms to take a more measured approach when implementing the metaverse. 

Enhancing the Metaverse Experience with Smartphones

Despite more opaque long-term forecasts for the dominance of smartphones in the age of the metaverse, it’s highly likely that the smartphone will play an essential role in delivering early iterations of the technology over the coming years. 

Today, smartphone gaming accounts for 52% of the global gaming market, and it’s through metaverse gaming that we’ll see adoption grow. 

When Microsoft acquired Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion in early 2022, the move was sparked by the gaming industry’s potential to grow the metaverse. 

It’s these early market movements that will be driven by collaborating with smartphone gaming. One early iteration of the metaverse, The Sandbox, was originally designed as a game for smartphones, but has since transformed into a metaverse platform designed to deliver revolutionary gaming experiences. Likewise, Fortnite, a game that has big ambitions for the metaverse, was developed with smartphone players in mind. 

With the arrival of 5G, and the ever-growing accessibility of 5G phones on the market, the smartphone will actually work to enhance metaverse experiences over the coming years. 

We even got to see the metaverse credentials of smartphones on display during the Covid-19 pandemic, where users were capable of working remotely, playing games with others from around the world, completing homework, attending school lessons, and consuming entertainment without having to leave the house. 

All of these interactive experiences could be performed via the use of smartphones, and until mixed reality headsets become powerful enough to handle the vast computational power required to explore the metaverse, and simultaneously affordable for mainstream adoption, smartphones will be our window to the future. 

Bringing the Metaverse onto Smartphone Apps

Over the coming years, the metaverse is likely to be located in smartphone app stores around the world. Visualax, a UK startup, has stated that it’s created and launched the world’s first augmented reality metaverse movies and music app. 

The platform features a collection of real-time 3D films and is designed solely to be accessed via smartphones.  

“We feel people want to dive straight into the metaverse now,” said Amith Lankesar, founder of Visualax. “I had the concept four years ago but when the Metaverse exploded in the last year I realized I had to get the app out no matter what.”  

Elsewhere, semiconductor giant Qualcomm has also entered the market for creating metaverse experiences that rely on smartphone technology. 

In its recent acquisition of Austrian AR firm Wikitude, Qualcomm has launched Snapdragon Spaces, an augmented reality developer kit for creators to build apps for mixed reality wearables. 

The first hardware to support the platform was Lenovo’s ThinkReality A3 smart glasses, which works with the help of a paired Motorola phone. 

Qualcomm’s augmented reality ambitions have long been harbored in tandem with smartphones, and their R&D programs seeking to implement reality technology on mobile devices stretches back to 2007. 

With this in mind, it’s clear that smartphones still have a central role to play in a world that’s gripped by metaverse fever. Although we may think of VR headsets and sprawling digital spaces when we consider the metaverse, we’re more likely to access these digital worlds with the help of our smartphones long into the future.