May 13, 2020 - Technology

Startups bring the remote meeting experience to VR

Spatial's Jacob Lowenstein speaks with Axios' Ina Fried, within Spatial's VR app
Spatial's Jacob Loewenstein speaks with Axios' Ina Fried, within Spatial's VR app. Screenshot: Axios

While two-dimensional video chat has become the standard for remote office meetings, a number of startups are working to bring that experience to VR.

Why it matters: VR has some advantages, including its immersiveness and the feeling of connection. However, as with other uses of VR, there are drawbacks, including challenges related to multitasking, or even taking notes.

Driving the news:

  • Spaces VR, which builds destination VR attractions at theme parks, has pivoted and these days is focused on letting people join Zoom meetings from their VR headsets.
  • Spatial, meanwhile, has its own VR environment that people can join from several types of VR and AR headsets. Today, Spatial is announcing the environment can also be reached from a standard PC or phone browser, albeit with a more limited set of controls. Spatial is also making its premium features, which it sells to businesses, free for the next several months so people can use it to ride out the pandemic.

My thought bubble: I recently tested out Spatial, and being able to meet via avatar was a nice change of pace from the usual square grid of a Zoom call. But other aspects of work remain tricky in VR, especially for a journalist trying to take notes during a meeting.

  • Spatial has a cool voice dictation feature, but unfortunately everyone could hear me dictating, so it really wouldn't work for journalism, or even a worker wanting to take good meeting notes.

Yes, but: VR-based collaboration could yet have its moment in the next couple of years. Prior to the pandemic, there wasn't a compelling enough case, since people that needed to work closely together had better options.

  • "COVID has thrown all this on its head," Spatial business chief Jacob Loewenstein said in an interview (conducted in VR). "No more travel. No more working in the same office."

Watch: You can watch a video of my full interview with Loewenstein, and see some additional highlights from my time in Spatial. Both are on YouTube — no headset required.

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