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Metaverse vs Spatial Computing: Which is the better label? 

Signs point towards spatial computing fitting within a wider metaverse. But the reality depends on how people use the devices when they release.

Here we go again. We have spent many (frustrating) years discussing what the metaverse is, debating labels over substance. Some lean towards a more blockchain-based vision of the future, while others fixate on a more spatial internet. That debate fired up once again, when Apple unveiled the Apple Vision Pro. The company preferred to use spatial computing as its focus – and did not use the M word once throughout the entire presentation. The arena lights flare, and a sign glows brightly with “the metaverse vs spatial computing” in neon purple and blue.

Labels matter (for communication). Words provide the shorthand for clearly conversing with each other, representing a bundle of ideas that we use to debate and discuss. That word doesn’t need to be the metaverse – it may die down similar to the “Information Superhighway” many years ago. Perhaps that phrase is spatial computing, as Apple’s colossal brand power cements the term across the industry. Or perhaps there is no difference at all; David Whelan, CEO of ENGAGE XR, commented that “the metaverse is the marketing term Meta use, and spatial computing is the marketing term Apple use for pretty much the same thing.” But what’s important is that we have some sort of agreement, and ensure we are cohesive from here on out.

After looking into it, I’ve concluded that spatial computing fits neatly as a sub-set of the metaverse. Instead of a separate label for the same concept, it forms a smaller part of a major whole. Let’s discuss how.

How does the metaverse differ from spatial computing?

Not much, as many of the qualities of spatial computing fit within the metaverse. The Immersive Wire defines the metaverse as the future of the internet, which (might) comprise of blockchain-based and (most certainly) has spatial elements as it becomes more immersive. We as humans crave social connectivity, and the internet will evolve to facilitate better and more in-depth connections between one another. This could involve immersive technologies such as VR and AR, and may involve blockchain systems that curate identities and item ownership. We are at an early stage of the metaverse’s development, so it is challenging to pinpoint definitive areas of its growth.

Spatial computing fits into it quite snugly. The qualities of a more immersive internet – from virtual objects to online communities – sit within the wider umbrella of what the metaverse is. Think of it as a Venn diagram, where the metaverse comprises spatial computing within its heart:

Spatial computing fits within the metaverse. Photo credit: Tom Ffiske

So is it part of the same idea?

I suspect so. The elements of spatial computing fit well with a broader metaverse, and the two terms could be used interchangeably for the same concept.

One potential criticism of this is if we define spatial computing as a hardware category, rather than an overarching vision. The Apple Vision Pro is distinctly a hardware device, which uses the space around the user to place panels to interact with. Not much of the vision is linked to a spatial internet; it focuses more on how users interact with the virtual world. The metaverse is inherently social by comparison, focusing more on how people connect with one another in virtual spaces.

Even then, that means spatial computing forms a part of the metaverse as a whole. I can see it collapsing into a hardware category of the metaverse, as a gateway device into it. Apple will not be the only company providing spatial computing devices – if anything, Meta’s Quest devices could fit into the vision as well. At the heart of it is that it forms a logical component of the metaverse.

Differentiating between the metaverse and spatial computing

It is difficult to distinguish between the metaverse and spatial computing at times. Photo credit: Midjourney

The misdirection behind the metaverse vs spatial computing

Ultimately, it comes down to the phrase we will use the most. If anything, it may be a question of time and hardware. The word “selfie” originated from Nathan Hope in 2002, but only gained popularity during the late 2000s and early 2010s as smartphone cameras landed in people’s palms. The word existed long before the current era of smartphones, but only gained traction when people hard the hardware to snap summer photos with friends.

I can see the same happening in the debate between the metaverse and spatial computing. We are at such an early stage of both that we are debating the use of the term. At the time of writing, a small fraction of the world has tried the Apple Vision Pro – yet we still discuss it as a spatial computing device. It speaks volumes about Apple’s brand power, and it may sway people to its side when it releases early next year. But language is a fickle beast, and it may meander in a surprising linguistic direction with time.

Based on what I have seen, spatial computing fits within the metaverse narrative. But we will know for sure when more devices hit the market in the years to come. The perspective draws parallels with the views of Costas Michalia, Head of Strategy and Innovation at Fiora: “Ultimately, these visions aren't mutually exclusive. As spatial computing develops, we'll likely see elements of both coalescing, blending immersive digital worlds with augmented physical realities.”

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