If anyone has an eye for where the tech industry is headed, it’s probably Tony Fadell.
During his time at Apple, he led the team that developed the iPod () and the first three generations of the iPhone. He then co-founded the now Google-operated smart home company Nest, which for how connected devices should look and feel. With that kind of track record, it’s no surprise that he has strong views on the metaverse — a vague term tech executives have used to describe the future of the Internet.
But his view may not be the one you’d expect from someone as closely associated with advancements in the tech industry as Fadell. His exact words when speaking to Wired’s Steven Levy recently were “fuck the metaverse,” an opinion that has not gone unnoticed.
It’s not that simple. He sees potential in the technologies often put forward in the context of the metaverse, such as augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality (XR), which falls in between. He just doesn’t think the metaverse is the social internet revolution being portrayed as being.
†I’m not against technology† Fadell said in an interview with CNET after the launch of his new book, Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making. “I am against the application; the way it is being talked about. It is not a problem to be solved.†
The metaverse is a collective term that generally refers to online spaces where people can come together virtually, usually through digital avatars. You may be wondering what makes the metaverse so different from a Zoom call or a video game. My colleagues Scott Stein and Andrew MorseUnlike a video call, spaces in the metaverse don’t disappear when you log out. Many have pointed to games like Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite as examples of how the metaverse exists today.
Tech giants see the metaverse as a critical part of the next phase of the internet, impacting how people work, play and socialize. But Fadell believes that more attention should be paid to solving the problems facing today’s social networks before moving on to the next step. Meta is already struggling to fight harassment on its virtual reality platform, as CNET’s Queenie Wong reported.
“I don’t want to hear about another social hangout without hearing it [about] the new content moderation that’s going to happen,” Fadell said. “And let’s fix the one we have.”
The idea of the metaverse isn’t new, but technology companies have recently made it a bigger part of their business. In October, Facebookto reflect his greater focus on building the metaverse. CEO Mark Zuckerberg called it “the next frontier” and has evangelized the metaverse’s potential to make virtual interactions more intimate. Microsoft agreed in January to “provide building blocks for the metaverse.” Samsung has also started †
Companies in other sectors are also starting to notice this. A recently announced partnership between Kraft Heinz and Microsoft allows the food and beverage giant to create “digital twins” of its manufacturing facilities to test processes before they reach the factory floor. Microsoft’s Judson Althoff used the term “industrial metaverse” in a press release describing the partnership. Disney has also appointed an executive toin February.
Fadell thinks there are more important issues to solve besides the metaverse, such as the climate crisis, but there’s another reason he doesn’t respond to the hype. Many of today’s metaverse experiences put users in the shoes of an avatar, resulting in social interactions that don’t feel authentic. “I can’t see your facial expressions,” Fadell said. “I can’t connect with you.”
He is not the first to raise such doubts. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel recently said the word “metaverse” is never used in the company’s offices because it is “ambiguous” and “hypothetical,” according to The Guardian. But companies like Snap are investing heavily in augmented reality, which combines digital images with the physical world and is often associated with the metaverse. Snap revealedlast year, and Apple is rumored to be working on augmented reality glasses as well.
Google, Fadell’s alma mater, was in the running for AR smart glasses early in 2012, when it showed that† At the Google I/O conference on Wednesday, it unveiled a who can translate speech.
But for Fadell, the original Google Glass had a problem similar to the current version of the metaverse: it doesn’t solve a problem. According to Fadell, it is not enough just to create the technology or the platform.
“You have to tell people what to do with them,” he said when asked how lessons from Google Glass’s shortcomings could be applied to the next wave of AR glasses.
“That’s exactly what I’m seeing with the metaverse.”