Chinese language tech large Baidu says it might be 6 years earlier than it might absolutely ship its metaverse

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Baidu Vice President Ma Jie will preview reporters in Beijing on December 21, 2021 how the company’s XiRang metaverse app will host a developer conference.

Baidu

BEIJING – While the Metaverse hype hit the world this year, one of China’s tech giants revealed in-game a version of the virtual ecosystem that has been disappointing so far.

The metaverse can be broadly defined as the next generation of the internet – a virtual world where people interact through three-dimensional avatars. Social network giant Facebook jumped in on the trend in October, changing its name to Meta, and announcing plans to invest $ 10 billion over the next year.

China is similarly full of metaverse headlines. Beijing-based Baidu plans to hold its annual developer event on Monday in the virtual world of its Metaverse app, XiRang. The company claims it will be China’s first Metaverse conference.

However, at a preview event on Tuesday, the executive in charge of XiRang downplayed expectations by noting how many aspects were still out of date.

Development of the app began last December, but there are still “negative six” years to go, Ma Jie, a vice president at Baidu, told reporters in Mandarin. In response to questions like one asking for details about this timeline, Ma replied apologetically, “That’s a very good question, but I may not have a very good answer.”

Ma Jie, Vice President at Baidu, announced the company’s Metaverse plans at a media event in Beijing on December 21, 2021.

Evelyn Cheng | CNBC

Baidu’s app as it exists now can accommodate 100,000 virtual attendees for Monday’s conference, Ma said, showing reporters a graphical representation of the virtual stadium.

He said Baidu aims to build an open source platform for Metaverse developers – an infrastructure for a virtual world.

Monday’s event marks the opening of XiRang for developers, primarily in China for the time being.

“While the metaverse is a buzzword in the global tech and investment community, it is still in its infancy,” said Brian Tycangco, an analyst at Stansberry Research, in an email. “A lot of people don’t even fully understand what the word means today or what it will mean in the next 3 to 5 years.”

Baidu’s schedule reflects the company’s understanding of the metaverse, its conservative approach to managing expectations, and China’s regulatory environment, he said. “Baidu is clearly trying to move forward to ‘own’ the Metaverse in its home market while at the same time sticking to Beijing’s new policy of preventing monopoly situations, hence the open platform.

The Chinese government has cracked down on suspected monopoly practices by China’s internet tech giants with fines and new regulations for the past 18 months. Beijing also passed a new data protection law this year. Analysts say policymakers are trying to address income inequality issues while supporting innovation-driven growth.

Baidu said in a statement to CNBC that openness is an integral part of the company and that by encouraging open source development, applications can be adopted more widely and more quickly.

The company was founded almost 22 years ago as an Internet search engine and has since shifted its focus to cloud computing, artificial intelligence, robotaxis and other technologies.

China’s internet is tightly controlled by the government, with bans on the overseas social media sites Facebook and Twitter. Google only operated its search engine in China for a short time.

The global metaverse rush

Analysts disagree on how fast China’s metaverse is moving compared to that of the US

Alibaba has a website promoting its Metaverse cloud offerings. In November, Tencent President Martin Lau said on a conference call that he expects the Chinese government to support the development of Metaverse technologies with specific regulations for the Chinese market.

Earlier this month, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said he expected most virtual meetings to move to the Metaverse in two or three years. Around the same time, Facebook (Meta) announced that its Horizon Worlds virtual reality ecosystem would end its invite-only phase and be freely available to everyone in the US and Canada 18 and older. Users can interact with other avatars and build their own worlds and games in the system.

According to Dan Ives, a senior US-based equity analyst with Wedbush Securities, “a six-year deadline for Baidu is disappointing and a headache for investors as they are missing out on this massive metaverse market for years to come.” Ives expects the metaverse monetization to begin in 2024 and to increase at a larger scale in the following year.

Baidu’s XiRang app demonstrations on Tuesday showed that avatars possessed inhuman abilities, such as the ability to walk through walls or other objects. Some parts of the virtual universe went black or purple for a moment when the system was loading.

The app mimics the real world by tricking avatars into walking or taking public transport. Video games usually display a map or have other features that allow users to quickly jump to other parts of the virtual game space.

Baidu’s metaverse concept on XiRang starts with a “Creator City” with a tall skyscraper in the middle, according to this visualization, which was shared with reporters on December 21, 2021.

Baidu

While the Metaverse discussion is attracting public attention, Chinese state media have published a number of articles on the subject, often on the risk of fraud.

On Thursday, the Chinese government’s Central Disciplinary Commission published an article on the global history of the metaverse on its website. The article also warned of the risk of unfounded metaverse hype by some companies and the need for financial oversight in the virtual world.

Virtual land has become an area of ​​speculation in the emerging metaverse.

But Baidu’s XiRang app won’t support digital currencies or asset trading like speculating on virtual property, despite using underlying technologies similar to blockchain, Ma said.

He is not the only voice of moderation.

A full metaverse will take five to ten years, said Alvin Graylin, China president at HTC, a smartphone and virtual reality company, noting that he couldn’t comment specifically on Baidu. “For the products and services that will encompass the Metaverse, parts of it will come much sooner.”

“The biggest challenge in realizing the full Metaverse ecosystem will likely be less in specific technologies or products and more in the underlying infrastructure, international regulatory frameworks and global standards,” Graylin said in an email. “It will take a joint global effort by many companies and governments to deliver on the promise of the Metaverse.”

He added that some of the items the Metaverse needed right away include tax rules and global coverage for high-speed cloud computing.

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