Aspirational visions of the metaverse peppered discussion at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where companies showed off products like a $270 body-tracking suit and an accessory that mimics heat and cold.
The conference demonstrates the rush of industry momentum behind the metaverse, an immersive online experience across tech platforms that has become a key focus of Facebook (FB), renamed Meta in October. By now, all the tech giants are investing in the metaverse, Axios reports.
But one top tech figure doesn’t believe the hype. In a new interview, former Apple (AAPL) engineer Tony Fadell — who’s credited with inventing the iPod and helping design the iPhone — slammed the metaverse as a distraction from efforts to address existential problems in the physical world like climate change.
Moreover, the metaverse fails to address a clear need for consumers, and likely will not gain wide social acceptance for a long time, Fadell said.
“We need to spend more time on fixing the climate than we need to worry about getting into the metaverse,” says Fadell, who now serves as a board member at Dice, an app-based ticket sale platform.
“So let’s make sure you have an environment we live in before we find another environment that keeps us in refrigerated chambers so that we can breathe and eat,” he adds.
“We’ve got a lot of fish to fry,” he says. “And we are frying ourselves.”
Some tech leaders have predicted that activities in the metaverse will come to rival — and even exceed — the importance of those experienced in physical reality. Nvidia (NVDA) CEO Jensen Huang last June said the economy of the metaverse will someday grow larger than that of the physical world.
But climate advocates have warned that the metaverse may provide a false sense of escape from the physical environment as it becomes less hospitable. “Climate change is already here,” author and climate justice leader Andreas Karelas wrote in The Hill in November. “You can’t create a metaverse where climate change doesn’t exist.”
Fadell isn’t the only tech figure who questions the appeal of the metaverse. Last month, Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk told conservative satirical site The Babylon Bee that he doubts the potential for widespread adoption of the metaverse.
“I don’t see someone strapping a screen to their face all day and not wanting to ever leave. That seems — no way,” Musk said. “I currently am unable to see a compelling metaverse situation.”
Fadell echoed such skepticism about consumer uptake of the metaverse.
“You need the technology, and then you have to understand that the consumers want it,” he says. “And they want to live in that it.”
“It’s social acceptance — not just you accepting it, but the people around you accepting it,” he adds. “What I’ve learned all the time is the technology might be right, but is the social timing right? Is there a social acceptance?”
“We don’t see the need yet for the metaverse,” he says.