Technology Trends

Race for building tools in a hypercompetitive virtual workplace takes off

Popular workplace app DingTalk is eyeing the launch of its proprietary augmented reality glasses, which can be used to hold meetings in the metaverse, according to a company executive.

The company, which tallied over 500 million users last year, said it is looking to boost its metaverse footprint with the new launch, which includes self-adjusting optics and support for nearsighted users, according to Ye Jun, president of DingTalk, an arm of internet giant Alibaba Group.

The metaverse is an immersive online world where people can gather virtually for activities. It incorporates virtual reality, augmented reality and other technologies.

On the sidelines of a DingTalk meeting in January, Ye said the emerging workplace gadget would build on previous iterations of AR devices. It has yet to announce a specific launch date.

"DingTalk will become the connection point between the digital world and the physical world, especially in work scenarios," Ye said.

He said that a prototype version of the goggles, priced at 13,999 yuan ($2,202) on e-commerce site Taobao, was introduced in 2020 in collaboration with AR startup Nreal. "Back then, people had a hard time comprehending what it was all about."

Ye said he thinks that data generation, transportation, storage, transactions and data visualization will change dramatically in the future, and the digital asset-related industry chain will become completely different.

Parent company Alibaba has invested heavily in China's AR industry by pouring roughly $1 billion into startups such as Magic Leap based on extended reality, known as XR. It is also innovating through its Damo Academy's XR lab to develop XR e-commerce products and other ideas for use in the metaverse.

Extended reality is an umbrella term that involves using different technologies to provide additional information about the actual environment or create artificial experiences.

It's not just Alibaba. China's other major tech firms are racing to file metaverse-related patents and trademarks in a bid to outpace the intensifying competition to build what many expect will be the next version of the web.

Technology powerhouse Huawei said in November that it would launch a gaming headset incorporating six degrees of freedom, complete with controllers and six DoF modules. Six degrees of freedom refers to the freedom of movement of a body in three dimensions. Smartphone maker Xiaomi revealed its standalone AR smart glasses in September.

In December, search engine and autonomous carmaker Baidu also unveiled its homegrown metaverse app, a move that aims to get a head start in the next big thing in technology.

Baidu launched an app called Xirang through an annual developers' conference. It enables up to 100,000 online participants and 100 global speakers to participate in a virtual meeting at the same time.

Xirang can be accessed from a smartphone, computer or through virtual reality goggles. While still in its infancy, Xirang allows users to create a digital character and interact with other users in a 3D world such as a fictional city.

Meanwhile, gaming and social media giant Tencent filed 4,085 VR and AR patent applications in 2020 and 2021-the second-highest number in the world, slightly trailing only Samsung Electronics'4,094 applications, according to a study cited by Fortune magazine.

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