Tony Fadell is perhaps the best predictor of where the IT sector is headed.
He led the team that created the iPod (RIP) and the first three generations of the iPhone during his time at Apple. Then he co-founded Nest, which is now owned by Google and set the standard for how connected products should look and feel. With a resume like that, it’s no surprise he has strong feelings about the metaverse, a hazy word used by industry executives to characterize the internet’s future.
But his viewpoint may not be what you’d expect from someone as involved in technological advancement as Fadell. “Fuck the metaverse,” he said recently in an interview with Wired’s Steven Levy, an attitude that hasn’t gone ignored.
That is not the case. He finds promise in technologies that are frequently mentioned in relation to the metaverse, such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality (XR), which is a hybrid of the two. He simply does not believe the metaverse is the social internet revolution that it is being portrayed as.
In an interview with CNET following the release of his new book, Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making, Fadell declared, “I’m not against technology.” “I oppose the application and the manner it has being promoted. It isn’t a problem that has to be solved.”
The metaverse is a catch-all word for online environments where people can interact electronically, usually through digital avatars. You might question what distinguishes the metaverse from a Zoom call or a video game. Scott Stein and Andrew Morse, two of my coworkers, put it best. Spaces in the metaverse, unlike video calls, do not vanish after you log out. Many people have cited games like Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite as instances of today’s metaverse.
The metaverse, according to IT companies, will be a major component of the next phase of the internet, influencing how people work, play, and socialize. But, according to Fadell, a greater emphasis should be placed on resolving the issues afflicting today’s social networks before going on to the next step. As CNET’s Queenie Wong noted, Meta is already fighting harassment on its virtual reality platform.
“I don’t want to hear about a new social hangout without learning about the new content filtering,” Fadell explained. “Let’s also fix the ones we already have.”
The concept of the metaverse isn’t new, but tech corporations have just begun to incorporate it into their operations. Facebook changed its name to Meta in October to reflect its increased focus on creating the metaverse. “The next frontier,” according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has evangelized the metaverse’s promise to make virtual relationships feel more intimate. In January, Microsoft decided to buy Activision Blizzard in order to “supply building pieces for the metaverse.” Samsung has also started hosting metaverse events.
Companies in other industries have begun to notice as well. Kraft Heinz and Microsoft recently announced a partnership that will allow the food and beverage giant to construct “digital twins” of its manufacturing facilities to test processes before they go into production. In a press statement announcing the agreement, Microsoft’s Judson Althoff coined the term “industrial metaverse.” In February, Disney named an executive to lead its metaverse strategy.
Fadell believes there are more pressing issues to address than the metaverse, such as the climate crisis, but he has another reason for not believing the hype. Many of today’s metaverse experiences place users in the shoes of an avatar, resulting in unauthentic social interactions. Fadell responded, “I can’t see your facial emotions.” “I’m unable to communicate with you.”
He isn’t the first to express similar reservations. According to The Guardian, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel has stated that the term “metaverse” is never used in the company’s offices since it is “ambiguous” and “hypothetical.” However, firms like as Snap are significantly investing in augmented reality, which combines digital graphics with the actual environment and is frequently connected with the metaverse. Snap debuted augmented reality glasses last year, and Apple is also reported to be working on the technology.
Fadell’s alma mater, Google, was an early participant in the AR smart glasses race, demonstrating the Explorer Edition of Google Glass in 2012. On Wednesday, Google announced a new pair of augmented reality spectacles that can translate speech.
However, according to Fadell, the original Google Glass had a problem similar to the current iteration of the metaverse: it isn’t solving a problem. According to Fadell, simply developing the technology or platform is insufficient.
“You have to tell people what to do with it,” he said when asked how the shortcomings of Google Glass could be applied to the next generation of AR glasses.