Avatars of the Metaverse: Recap of GITEX, Microsoft Ignite and South Coast Summit

Last week was a busy one for me. And everything had something to do with the Metaverse, speaking and seeing friends. These properties seem to connect all the dots for me these days since if I travel to somewhere it is very often because I will be speaking in an event, and when I do speak I do speak about the Metaverse and these events attract likeminded people – very often people I am lucky enough to be able to call friends. For this week’s blog post I wanted to write about these three events – and of course add a little extra thoughts and insights regarding Avatars, thus the stranger title for this one.

  1. GITEX 2022
  2. Microsoft Ignite 2022
  3. Avatars of the Metaverse
  4. South Coast Summit 2022
  5. Final thoughts

GITEX 2022

This event is aimed at the future and bleeding edge technology and it was huge. I heard mentioned that there were 100 000 attendees on site over the week. Since the are was very large (Dubai World Trade Center) it didn’t feel as packed – except during the traffic in or out. I was able to stay at the venue only for two days, which wasn’t even nearly enough. I am happy I was able to meet people from local Microsoft and see what magic they did with the HoloLens. Everything is around Mixed Reality these days, isn’t it? But that is very understandable, since I think the future will be more on Mixed Reality (Augmented, extended, enhanced, whatever the word you would like to use) than plain Virtual Reality. With Mixed Reality you can see the information and data on top of the real world, but you are not cut out of it and interact only in the fully digital realm. Mixed Reality brings relevant information to us, and yet allows us to work with others who may not be wearing lenses – or interact with the environment. And in many cases: you will have less accidents since you are aware of your environments, kids, cats, dogs, tables and Lego bricks.

I was happy to get a photo together with Ksenia at Microsoft booth, wearing HoloLenses of course.

Sulava also had a booth at GITEX. We had excellent HoloLens demos and there was a lot of interest how Metaverse, Mixed Reality, HoloLenses and Digital Twins can make a big difference. I am so happy to have colleagues such as these – and yes, they are fun and pro at the same time!

The GITEX is mainly a networking event, where people come to offer services, contracts, investments and so on. Most of the event is booth-based but there are also stages where presentations / speaks are done. I feel I was lucky and privileged to be in the GITEX main stage and talk about how the Metaverse is shaping the future.

I in the middle of my session, photo taken by a friend.
My good friend, Zaid, took this one.

In my session I used AI (Stable Diffusion) generated images. It is surely an art to find ways how to create those images – it does take some trial and error but I am very happy on mixed Ready Player One and Cyberpunk style I managed to mix up together.

At GITEX they also had a X-Verse venue (Metaverse / large tent) where they had various booths showcasing what companies had done there. I of course had to talk with people from VARJO (Finnish XR device company – creators of the best headset available) and I finally had a chance to test it and sit in a virtual car in a Mixed Reality environment.

Microsoft was also at the X-Verse area.

On Tuesday I got to meet my friends Zaid and Christian, when we were mentoring at the Metaverse Masters Hackathon.

Zaid, me and Christian
View from 148th floor of Burj Khalija

After a very nice guided tour to Syrian food, it was time for me to fly to UK during Wednesday.

Thinking how futuristic buildings and environment can be in the Dubai, I think GITEX fits the place really well.

Microsoft Ignite 2022

UK Spotlight of Microsoft Ignite 2022 was held in Manchester, UK. The venue was nice, older, Victoria Warehouse. While partially I would have preferred a more modern location I also have to say I am big fan of these older buildings. They have charisma, history and feeling. No, they are not perfect for tech events but I think those other qualities make it up really well.

It was great to meet Chirag and many other friends at UK Ignite!

What was good about the UK venue, is that it wasn’t too large. Now it offered a good chance for talks and exchanging ideas.

We had a full room during our Enter the Mesh session! Thank you Karoliina for the photo!

Too bad I didn’t take a selfie (groupie?) with Alex Karim and Greg Demchak when we did a session/panel discussion together about Field Workers of Tomorrow. Yes, Mixed Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Digital Twins and HoloLenses were mentioned several times during that session.

Overall Ignite UK was great event and I am really happy I participated in it as a speaker and attendee. I enjoyed all three speaking sessions I had there – all different and all were recorded and should be eventually found via Ignite.

Regarding the side-step about Avatars, it fits perfectly to this

Avatars of the Metaverse

Our session Enter the Mesh sparked a lot of discussion and a spectrum of responses. There are people who want to try it yesterday and people who don’t see any value with avatars. There are various good points with avatars – thinking about making it easier for people to talk, reducing meeting fatigue without having to have a camera on and of course there are always situational / moments when the camera is not a good idea (like having lunch while in the meeting..). Avatars do help us to have more presence than a still photo or initials.

Chirag and me on the front and Chris Hoard as Avatar just before Enter the Mesh session. I think I need to ask Sara for the photo! We did a truly hybrid session where there were people not just online and in the room, but also there as avatars.

But avatars can be much more. For example the upcoming Meta Quest Pro will also track facial expressions (if feature is turned on) and thus the avatar could mirror your expressions without having to use reactions. For some people this is good, for some this is a privacy issue. The good thing will be that features like this can be chosen. Mesh avatars will have a camera based tracking at one point – you can choose to use it or not. It is up to you – at least that how I see it evolve. I can see myself sometimes using camera based expressions (let’s assume I would do a presentation – for sure I would use it) and sometimes I would just choose to have less mirroring of my expressions and use manual reactions (for example I might be in a tough place or very tired).

You can claim that avatars are not your digital twins, but they are. They represent you and your presence in the metaverse. They reflect you. Tech will allow things like camera based expressions, replicating your movements and thus avatar can mimic you very realistically. They don’t have to look like you (yes, they are cartoonish for now – that is a performance thing) but in the near future they replicate our body language and expressions. Isn’t that a Digital Twin.

Mesh for Teams Avatars are a good step towards adopting this new world. While I have to say I was disappointed that immersive meetings were not announced already to preview as well, I have to say based on Enter the Mesh session experience and discussion that it is good they didn’t. People need time and avatars are just the first step. Avatars are the gateway to the Mesh. And to the Metaverse. Change doesn’t happen immediately and avatars will be disrupting the way we have used to collaborate together. That disruption will force and drive the change forward and spark new ways how we can use the tech for benefits.

From Manchester I took a plane to Southampton, for the South Coast Summit. I have to admit I started to feel the traveling wear at this point.

South Coast Summit 2022

The last stop on my speaking tour journey was South Coast Summit at Southampton. Out of these events this was the most community oriented one – since it was organized by the community. Due to that reason I also was able to meet great friends from both the community and from Microsoft participants.

I was able to meet my very good friend Chris Hoard while at the Summit.
Together with Chris I did Metaverse for Business session. Thank you Dona Sarkar for the photo!
And yes, I got my hands to HoloLens also at the Summit. This time I played around with JoinXR experience.

I have to admit I didn’t took as many photos of South Coast Summit as I originally intended. It was great to talk to people and engage in conversations – usually about either Metaverse or Teams. Exhibit area was quite interesting and well sized. Thinking how many sessions there were and how much opportunities you had for networking and meeting friends – it was a nice conference to visit. And we also had a good weather.

One of great sessions to attend for Microsoft Teams AMA (Ask me Anything) where the panel was joined also by Karuana Gatimu and Pouneh Kaufman from Seattle area. We used the opportunity to throw in good questions.😎
All good things must come to an end. One of final pictures from the Summit I got with myself, Laurie (Microsoft), Chris and Chiraq . All I am very happy to call my friends.

Final thoughts

It was a marvelous tour of speaking and meeting people. It was inspiring, motivational, innovating and of course weary at the end. I loved to be able to be in talks with futuristic and superb people all around the world – and I enjoyed those conversations since they always spark more innovation and thinking the world from a wider perspective. And during the week there were Meta Connect with Microsoft partnership and Meta Quest Pro news, on top of those there were Microsoft Ignite news as well. I have to say, all this combined made me preorder a Meta Quest Pro for myself. Mixed Reality is the future and with that device I can get more and better experiences in the Metaverse. Why not HoloLens 2? One reason is the price – HoloLens 2 costs twice as much. HoloLens 2 has great features and it is a superb device – but thinking collaboration and the Metaverse a more generic device is needed. HoloLens 2 will be a great experience once Mesh app there gets the new version (and can be used with Mesh for Teams) or you are working with 3D, holograms, engineering or industrial metaverse. Yes, I would love to have them both.

With the new Meta and Microsoft Partnership it does make sense to see what Meta Quest Pro can really do. Mesh for Teams will be available for it when immersive meetings ship. I’ll be waiting for that and I’ll be ready to share my experiences.

Save the date for Microsoft Ignite 2023!

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