When the science fiction writer Neal Stephenson came up with the term metaverse in 1982, he envisaged a virtual world where multitudes of people could interact with each other in digital form.
Four decades later and the metaverse is going mainstream, cropping up in conversations across a range of different sectors and situations.
However, the virtual reality (VR) hardware needed to access the new world is dominated by one key player. That company has also co-opted part of the name as its own – Meta. The tech giant formerly known as Facebook has been so successful at selling its Oculus Quest headsets that it now commands 78% of the global market, according to IDC data.
Third in the market share rankings is a Chinese company called Pico. It only claims about 4.5% of VR hardware sales but its new owner Bytedance has plans to supercharge its business following a $1.5 billion acquisition last year.
First up is a ban on its employees even mentioning the word ‘metaverse’, which is now so closely associated with its chief competitor. Next is a hiring spree, with reports from tech news platform Protocol that Pico is building a VR consumer software and games team in the US, as well as transferring some of its TikTok executives to roles at its new addition.
Tech bloggers still wonder whether Pico has a chance of catching its rival. Bytedance’s deep pockets might help, with one of Protocol’s sources explaining that there is “tons of money” to spend on competing with Meta’s headsets, as well as the ecosystem of games and apps attached to them.
Meta has been selling its Oculus Quest headsets for $299 in a bid to entrench its dominant market share. Pico’s latest headsets have just gone on sale outside China for the first time for €450 ($475). Users have noted that there are far fewer games linked to Pico hardware than to Meta’s. But in addition to developing its own games, Pico looks likely to take advantage of TikTok’s expertise in social media build up a bigger following. For instance, Sina Technology quotes one fan as saying that she saw so many influencers recommending Pico on Douyin (the Chinese sister platform to TikTok) that she decided to try a headset too.
Pico may soon be competing with another huge beast in the virtual jungle – Apple. “Stay tuned and you will see what we have to offer,” its boss Tim Cook teased in the China Daily this month.
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