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iPod Creator Tony Fadell Isn’t Buying the Metaverse Hype

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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 (RIP) and the first three generations of the iPhone. Then, he co-founded the now Google-owned smart home company Nest, which raised the bar for how connected appliances should look and feel. With that kind of track record, it’s no surprise he has a strong opinion on the metaverse — a nebulous term that tech executives have used to describe the future of the internet. 

But his opinion might not be the one you’d expect from someone as closely tied to progress in the tech industry as Fadell. His exact words when recently speaking with Wired’s Steven Levy were “fuck the metaverse,” an opinion that hasn’t gone unnoticed

It’s not that simple. He sees potential in the technologies that are often brought up in the context of the metaverse, like augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality (XR), which falls in between the two. He just doesn’t think the metaverse is the social internet revolution it’s being made out to be.

Apple's 7th and final generation of the iPod Touch

Apple just discontinued the iPod Touch, seemingly ending the product line that Fadell helped create.


Apple

I’m not against the technology,” Fadell said in an interview with CNET following the launch of his new book, Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making. “I’m against the application; the way it’s been buzzed about. It’s not a problem that needs solving.

The metaverse is a catch-all term that generally refers to online spaces where people can gather virtually, typically through digital avatars. You might be wondering what makes the metaverse so different from a Zoom call or a video game. My colleagues Scott Stein and Andrew Morse describe it best. Unlike a video call, spaces in the metaverse don’t disappear when you log off. Many have pointed to games like Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite as being examples of how the metaverse exists today. 

Tech giants see the metaverse as being a critical component of the next phase of the internet, impacting how people work, play and socialize. But Fadell thinks there should be a bigger focus on fixing the problems plaguing today’s social networks before moving on to what’s next. Meta is already struggling to combat harassment on its virtual reality platform, as CNET’s Queenie Wong reported. 

“I don’t want to hear about a new social hangout without hearing [about] the new content moderation that’s going to happen,” Fadell said. “And let’s fix the ones we have.”

Screenshot of Spotify's online island

Companies have been joining metaverse experiences like Roblox, such as Spotify’s island.


Spotify

The idea of the metaverse isn’t new, but tech companies have been making it a larger part of their businesses recently. In October, Facebook rebranded itself as Meta to reflect its larger focus on building the metaverse. CEO Mark Zuckerberg called it “the next frontier” and has evangelized the metaverse’s potential to make virtual interactions feel more intimate. Microsoft agreed to acquire video game giant Activision Blizzard in January to “provide building blocks for the metaverse.” Samsung has also started holding events in the metaverse

Companies in other industries have also started to take notice. A recently announced partnership between Kraft Heinz and Microsoft will allow the food and beverage giant to create “digital twins” of its manufacturing facilities to test processes before they hit the plant floor. Microsoft’s Judson Althoff used the term “industrial metaverse” in a press release detailing the partnership. Disney also appointed an executive to oversee its metaverse strategy in February.

Fadell thinks there are more important problems to solve besides the metaverse — such as the climate crisis — but there’s another reason why he isn’t buying into 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’s not the first to cast such doubts. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel recently said the word “metaverse” is never used in the company’s offices because it’s “ambiguous” and “hypothetical,” according to The Guardian. But companies like Snap are investing heavily in augmented reality, which blends digital graphics with the physical world and is often associated with the metaverse. Snap unveiled a pair of AR glasses last year, and Apple is rumored to be working on augmented reality eyewear as well. 

Google, Fadell’s alma mater, was early to the AR smart glasses race back in 2012, when it demonstrated the Explorer Edition of Google Glass. During its Google I/O conference on Wednesday, it revealed a new pair of AR spectacles that can translate speech.

But to Fadell, the original Google Glass had an issue similar to that of the current iteration of the metaverse: It’s not solving a problem. According to Fadell, it’s not enough just to create the technology or platform.

“You have to tell people what to do with it,” he said when asked about how lessons from Google Glass’ shortcomings could be applied to the next wave of AR glasses. 

“That’s exactly what I see with the metaverse.” 


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Metaverse

‘NFTs: Enter the Metaverse’ | Watch the trailer for non-fungible token documentary from ABC Localish Studios

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In 2021, three otherwise unassuming letters would upend the worlds of cryptocurrency, technology, art, and pop culture all at once. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, were propelled into the mainstream after an unprecedented $69.4 million sale at the historic art auction house Christie‘s in New York City.

The sale of digital artist Beeple‘s Everydays at Christie’s for $69.4 million marked the beginning of a seemingly unstoppable NFT wave, where everyone from digital artists to mainstream celebrities like Paris Hilton, Mark Cuban, Steve Aoki and many others began creating, selling, and collecting NFTs via cryptocurrency on the Blockchain.

While NFTs initially focused on the importance of ownership of digital assets, they soon also became part of a social movement where groups of creators and collectors began communities based on buying and selling NFTs. Some early examples of these groups include CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club, but many more have since risen in popularity as the world of NFTs continues to expand and propels new digital artists, like 17-year-old Diana Sinclaire, to international fame.

Following the journey of digital artist Beeple, aka Mike Winklemann, through the historic sale of his Everydays work, “NFTs: Enter the Metaverse” illuminates the social and economic factors that led to the rise of NFTs as well as the implications of NFT technology on the future of the Metaverse. The documentary features appearances by Paris Hilton, Gary Vaynerchuck, Mark Cuban, Steve Aoki, 3Lau, Rebecca Jarvis, Kelly Crow, Kenny Schacter, Diana Sinclair, Daniel Maegaard, and Karsen Daily.

Watch “NFTs: Enter the Metaverse” premiering on May 21st on ABC (check your local listings), ABC News Live and the Localish Network.





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Unreal reality: The big leap to capitalise on the metaverse boom

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Will the rise of the metaverse see a move to not only wearing VR goggles, but full body suits to feel the wind, fresh water and even to act as the protagonist in our favourite movie?

Time will tell. But the sense of reality companies eventually develop, and how people react, will be key for companies, fund managers and investors to capitalise on what has been called the next big disruption – the metaverse. 

In the keynote address at Citywire Montreux 2022, researcher and broadcaster Stephanie Hare delved into the tricky questions that surround the great push towards virtual, augmented or mixed realities.



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The U.S. military is creating and just tested its own metaverse

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The military’s version of a metaverse doesn’t quite align with Mark Zuckerberg and Meta’s vision for a virtual world for us to inhabit.

The U.S. military is creating and just tested its own metaverse 02 | TweakTown.com

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Credit: Red 6

Using augmented reality (AR), two fighter pilots completed a high-altitude drill a few thousand feet high over the desert of California on May 10th. Flying a pair of Berkut 540 jets and donning custom AR headsets, the pilots were shown virtual refueling aircraft in the sky, allowing one of the pilots to practice a refueling maneuver with the virtual aircraft.

The augmented and virtual reality (VR) technology, head-mounted displays and artificial intelligence (AI) powered environments being developed by Red 6 allow pilots to take part in virtual dog fights against enemy aircraft and more while pulling several G’s. Red 6 is developing a platform that will allow them to display various scenarios in AR and VR, while using lower latency and higher reliability hardware than consumer-grade AR and VR headsets.

We can fly against whatever threat we want. And that threat could be controlled either by an individual remotely or by artificial intelligence. What we’re building is really a military metaverse. It’s like a multiplayer video game in the sky,” says Daniel Robinson, founder and CEO of Red 6.

AR and VR have become staples of military training of late in projects like Project Avenger and Project BlueShark. Now, the military is setting its sights on integrating various technologies to create more interconnected virtual systems, and recently held a high-level conference in a virtual environment attended by more than 250 people from across the world.

It is an extremely complex type of simulation, especially given the fidelity that the military demands. You can either have live players who are participating in the simulation or [characters] can be AI-enabled, which is often what the military does,” said Caitlin Dohrman, general manager of the defense division of Improbable, a company that develops virtual world technologies.

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