When I first used Microsoft Mesh, the company’s mixed reality platform, I said it felt “like the virtual future of Microsoft Teams meetings.” Now, nearly three years later, Microsoft is making immersive 3D Teams meetings a reality. In January, Microsoft Mesh is being integrated into Teams to allow co-workers to meet together in a virtual space — no VR headset required.
It’s a big shift in Microsoft’s original vision for Mesh — an entire platform built on top of Azure that Microsoft hoped developers would tap into — but then a lot has changed with Microsoft’s VR / AR ambitions over the past few years. Microsoft’s HoloLens boss, Alex Kipman, left the company last year following misconduct allegations. Six months later, Microsoft shut down AltspaceVR, the social VR platform it acquired in 2017, amid layoffs affecting its mixed reality division.
Microsoft Mesh still exists as a separate platform, for now, but it’s one that’s also heading directly into Teams. “There has been a pretty meaningful shift with Microsoft Mesh,” admits Nicole Herskowitz, vice president for Microsoft Teams marketing, in an interview with The Verge. “It was more of a platform. We’ve really made a big shift to bring it into the technology where people work every day, like Microsoft Teams, and really SaaS-ify the service so that it’s accessible to everyone in the place where they work.”
Over the past few months, Mesh has shifted toward a platform for 3D meetings and events inside Teams, and it now feels a lot more like a corporate version of AltspaceVR. Microsoft has a lot of competition in this space from startups that also have grand ideas for the future of immersive meetings. Jugo, Frame, and of course Meta have enticed many companies to experiment with 3D meetings, but Microsoft has the advantage of having more than 320 million monthly Teams users to whom it can market Mesh.
During the peak of pandemic-era metaverse meeting obsession, Microsoft and Meta looked like they were on the way toward becoming fierce competitors, but a surprise partnership has seen the software giant commit to bringing Teams, Office, Windows, and even Xbox experiences to Meta’s popular VR headsets.
Last week, I used a Meta Quest 3 headset to try out Mesh in Teams. I entered a virtual space that could be customized to look like a boardroom, one of several casual meeting spaces, or even social events. I even spent some time tossing bean bags, creating music, and roasting virtual marshmallows — all part of what Microsoft has created as team bonding exercises in its 3D worlds.
You won’t need to wear a VR headset for this Teams experience, but it’s obviously far more immersive if you do….