The Covid-19 pandemic has not only changed the ways people live but also accelerated the development of metaverse technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) over the past few years. This unleashes the opportunity for internet users to explore a connected, three-dimensional online world through avatars and other ways.

Representatives from consumer electronics firm HTC and Nio-backed Chinese AR glass maker Nreal talked about the ongoing migration from the mobile internet space to a virtual-physical blended metaverse at the BEYOND Expo 2022 tech conference, held online at BEYOND Metaverse. They also discussed the potential of the metaverse and the challenges in scaling the technology.

The text below has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Alvin Wang Graylin, president of HTC China (left). Xu Chi, founder and CEO of Nreal (middle). Richard Lai, editor-in-chief at Engadget Chinese (right and moderator).

Xu Chi, founder and CEO of Nreal

It has been quite challenging for us during Covid because we have a relatively small team but operate in multiple countries. Especially during the early days of the pandemic, it was hard for us to go to local stores, gather customer feedback, and assemble offline campaigns to attract customers.

However, it’s also an opportunity for us because people can’t go out too often, and they would love to browse online to find some cool gadgets. I think VR/AR definitely got some boosts out of that, and many companies are taking this opportunity. Instantly, you have a chance to lower the cost for customers to try something new. There has been a boost for VR/AR in general over the last couple of years, and I do think that trend will continue even after the Covid period.

We are building a computing platform that is getting ready to host more and more 3D content and can attract people coming from the mobile internet to the spatial internet or metaverse. We must display true 3D content with VR/AR devices, and there must be a more complicated, brand-new optical display that is driving the entire thing, compared with the traditional 2D display technology we’ve been using for cellphones and televisions.

Internally, we call the metaverse the spatial internet, and it’s kind of like the next internet. We also think that’s like five to 10 years ahead of us, and we need to find out what are the best use cases that people would be interested in dedicating their time to them. How we can actually evolve from today into the future means a lot of new questions and opportunities as well.

Alvin Wang Graylin, president of HTC China

It’s clear that over the last couple of years, the Covid situation has actually created an acceleration for the adoption of and interest in [VR/AR], while there is growing heat and hype around this metaverse concept. These trends are creating a new inflection point, both in terms of customer interest to adopt as well as investor interest to put more money into this space, with entrepreneurs and content creators both wanting to get into the space.

Overall, I think we’re quite happy with where things are headed, and we recently released completely new generations of our products. Now, these devices are getting to a point where they’re much more accessible and comfortable and attract customers that used not to be open to using these devices. That’s going to help gain a new customer base and expand the overall market.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding of what the metaverse is. I think it’s important to kind of set the stage and say: Hey, the metaverse is something that is coming. It’s going to take five to 10 years to realize in terms of having a fully interoperable, open-world concept where people can get into it with any device, whether an AR device or a VR device and be able to go into any of these 3D virtual worlds with a common ID. That’s what the metaverse promises.

Metaverse is kind of the 3D version of the internet that we’ve been building over the last 30 years. In the near future, most people will probably consume it on their PCs or their tablets, because those are the devices that are out there in the world. But as time goes on, we’ll see more people migrate to a more immersive experience with an XR [Extended Reality] device.

Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen