Microsoft Teams launching VR and AR next year
There's no "Zoom for VR" yet, although many companies are targeting this goal. The mainstream work tools that most people use have yet to leap. But Microsoft is finally pushing Teams toward a VR/ AR bridge tool, which will be available in beta in the first half of 2022.
Cross-device upgrades for laptops, phones, virtual reality and Microsoft Hololens headsets make avatars the focal point, as well as an immersive meeting space that folds into Microsoft Office 365 apps and services. In a way, this sounds like Facebook's Horizon Workrooms experiment with virtual work meetings.
During the coronavirus, the Microsoft team began to be redefined: An experimental add-on in 2020 called "Together Mode" rearranges participants into classrooms and auditoriums, akin to translating VR spirit into a 2D videoconferencing app. Based on Microsoft's awareness, the world isn't going to spend most of its time working remotely on VR headsets anytime soon. Microsoft's next step in the team is to use these avatars to give people more control over their image and identity. These characters will work in 2D mode for the team as an alternative to showing your real face on camera, but they can express reactions and emotions. They will also work in 3D immersive Spaces where VR, AR and 2D screens intersect. The Microsoft team will have virtual avatars and real camera feeds
Nicole Herskowitz, general manager of Microsoft's team, says the company's research through its in-house Human Factors lab found that 85 percent of avatars felt "very or somewhat present" in meetings, while 75 percent of other avatars looked "very or somewhat present." This has prompted Microsoft to think that avatars could serve as a realistic alternative to group meetings, rather than the current option of turning the camera on or off. Virtual and augmented reality headsets with more cameras and motion sensors could also help create more expressive characters as team apps evolve, Microsoft said.
But these avatars aren't the same as the virtual reality Microsoft uses with Altspace VR: the avatars look more realistic, less cartoonish, but not at all realistic. When next year's preview is released, businesses may finally set up their virtual office environments.
Microsoft points to Accenture, an early partner, as an example of where their vision is heading. Accenture has a suite of virtual meeting Spaces that remote workers can log in to, either as corporate meeting Spaces or as more casual virtual Spaces like a home version of the office lounge.
Earlier this year, Microsoft unveiled its cross-device Mesh platform for AR, VR, mobile and personal computers, which aims to be a bridge between headphones, phones and laptops. Cross-device and avatar-centric communication will be a hot topic for many companies next year as the vision of the common Meta-universe replaces traditional VR/AR conversations.