Microsoft to extend its ‘enterprise metaverse’ strategy with Mesh for Teams

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Microsoft announced today it is expanding its enterprise metaverse efforts with the launch of Mesh for Teams. The new mixed reality collaboration capability will allow people in different physical locations to join collaborative holographic experiences through Microsoft Teams.

The move aims to accelerate Microsoft’s vision of an ‘enterprise metaverse’ that empowers remote workers to collaborate in immersive virtual environments as if together in person. It builds on the company’s previous introduction of Mesh last year as a mixed reality platform for shared experiences across a range of devices.

Speaking at a press briefing, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stated Mesh for Teams represents “a new paradigm for collaboration and the next generation of digital experiences” in the workplace. He positioned it as central to the company’s broader metaverse strategy for enterprises.

“We are building the enterprise metaverse – a new platform layer that enables the virtual world and physical world to interact,” said Nadella. “Mesh for Teams starts to deliver on our vision of powering the enterprise metaverse.”

With Mesh for Teams, users will have their digital avatars represent them in holographic meeting spaces where they can interact with shared holographic content. This aims to improve sense of presence, connection and collaboration for people working remotely.

The experience combines elements of augmented reality on physical headsets like HoloLens 2 with a fully immersive virtual reality experience on Meta’s Quest 2 headset. All participants can be present together as holograms regardless of their device.

According to Alex Kipman, a Microsoft Technical Fellow leading development of Mesh experiences, Mesh for Teams represents the next evolution of communication and collaboration.

“It enables geographically disparate teams to join collaborative and immersive holographic experiences on their devices of choice,” said Kipman. “They can brainstorm designs, evaluate innovations and explore data models in a shared virtual space as if physically together.”

Industry analysts said Mesh for Teams promises to change how teams work and conduct meetings in a hybrid work world. “This has the potential to revolutionize collaboration in the enterprise and make distributed teams far more productive,” said respected tech commentator Patrick Moorhead.

Mesh for Teams will start rolling out in preview in the coming months, with general availability expected next year. It will allow up to 50 participants to join a collaborative Mesh meeting space and interact with 3D content together as personalized avatars.

Microsoft said the ability to bring teams together in an immersive virtual environment using avatars reduces meeting fatigue while improving focus and engagement. Being able to visualize and manipulate 3D models and data together in-context creates deeper understanding compared to traditional 2D web meetings.

According to Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s VP for Modern Work, “Mesh for Teams enables geographically dispersed colleagues to come together, brainstorm using digital whiteboards, annotate over 3D models in real-time and switch from augmented reality to virtual reality with ease.”

A key use case will be for spatially intensive tasks like design reviews, with Microsoft citing examples like discussing architectural 3D models, evaluating manufacturing prototypes, or examining molecular structures in pharmaceuticals. The integration with Teams also means users can switch between 2D meetings and collaborative 3D hologram sessions fluidly.

Microsoft believes Mesh for Teams delivers a range of benefits for hybrid and fully remote teams over traditional web conferencing tools. These include:

– Enhanced presence, connection and engagement through life-like avatars and spatial audio

– Deeper understanding of 3D models, objects and data through collaborative mixed reality

– More engagement in long sessions by taking brain breaks in a virtual environment

– Quick iteration and feedback cycles when evaluating 3D concepts and designs

– Natural interaction using gaze, gesture and spatial mapping features

– Ease of switching between AR and VR to match devices and contexts

The launch builds on Microsoft’s previous introduction of avatars, immersive meetings spaces, and other metaverse-like features in Teams over the past year. It ties in with the company’s Mesh platform for enabling collaborative mixed reality across HoloLens headsets, VR devices like Quest, mobile apps and PCs.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said Mesh for Teams and Mesh represent significant milestones on the journey towards an enterprise metaverse. He said Microsoft is focused on delivering the platforms, productivity tools, and business applications needed to help companies thrive in this new paradigm.

According to Alex Kipman, Microsoft sees the metaverse as the next major technology platform transition powering the future of work, similar to how the web and mobile did previously.

“The enterprise metaverse enables us to rethink how we come together to connect, collaborate, share and learn,” said Kipman. “Mesh unlocks this vision by making virtual interactions more natural, personal and compatible across devices.”

Microsoft’s metaverse efforts extend across its various product groups, from Office apps to Dynamics business software and Power Platform low-code tools. This reflects its belief that the metaverse must permeate all aspects of work from productivity and collaboration to sales, service and manufacturing.

“The metaverse enables us to embed computing into the real world and embed the real world into computing, creating a new spatial computing fabric for work,” explained Andrew Shuman, Microsoft’s Corporate VP for Azure Mixed Reality. “Mesh is the platform to orchestrate these experiences across the physical and digital worlds.”

Microsoft is also leveraging its extensive Azure cloud infrastructure and services to build the foundations for enterprise metaverse platforms. Features like Azure Digital Twins allow virtual replicas of physical environments to be modeled digitally in support of immersive experiences.

Alongside internal development, Microsoft is engaging extensively with partners and customers to co-innovate around applying metaverse concepts to address real business challenges. This includes its recent Formation of an industrial metaverse lab with Kawasaki, and an automotive solutions metaverse center with Volkswagen.

“We firmly believe that the enterprise metaverse enables people to achieve more together, from wherever they are,” said Nick McQuire, Microsoft VP for Enterprise Strategy. “Working with customers and partners is crucial to shaping solutions that deliver real impact.”

Microsoft sees Mesh experiences like those enabled by Mesh for Teams playing a key role improving employee engagement, productivity and learning in an increasingly decentralized business environment. It believes making online interactions more lifelike, personal and immersive will act as a talent magnet for younger professionals.

“Younger workers expect engaging digital experiences that enhance connectivity. Mesh can transform work to meet these expectations,” argued Jared Spataro. “Firms that embrace technologies like this will gain a competitive edge in recruiting and retaining talent.”

However some industry observers noted potential hurdles to metaverse adoption at enterprise scale. The need for specialized headsets, motion sensors, powerful PCs and robust networks could limit accessibility. There are also challenges around data interoperability and integration with legacy systems.

Analyst Patrick Moorhead said, “Microsoft will need to demonstrate solid business use cases, prove integration with existing collaboration tools and workflows, and ensure inclusive access across devices before Mesh sees mass business adoption.”

Microsoft indicated it plans to introduce hybrid 2D/3D experiences using PC cameras and mobile AR functionality to broaden access. Interoperability with industry standards and non-Microsoft environments is also a priority, with support for open metaverse platforms like Nvidia Omniverse.

In his keynote, Satya Nadella acknowledged bringing the metaverse to business required continued progress across areas like security, privacy, digital ethics and responsible AI. But he asserted Microsoft was committed to addressing these responsibly.

“The enterprise metaverse has the potential to enable greater empathy, connection and innovation across people and organizations,” said Nadella. “We believe in the promise of technology to empower everybody and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

In closing, Nadella reinforced that Mesh for Teams represents a significant step in empowering people to connect, collaborate and build community from anywhere. “Today we are starting our journey to enable the enterprise metaverse,” he said. “We look forward to continuing working alongside our customers, partners and developers to drive this vision forward.”

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