Why Apple Is Staying Out of the Metaverse

And what it’s doing about it

  • Apple, Niantic, and Roblox are absent from a new Metaverse Standards Forum.
  • The metaverse may be a $5 trillion opportunity, even though nobody really knows what it is. 
  • AR is already here, only it’s contained inside our phone screens and AirPods. 
Young person using a VR headset

UK Black Tech / Unsplash

Before any of us have really worked out what the appeal of the metaverse is supposed to be, here comes the Metaverse Standards Forum.

This industry standards body is meant to lay down rules that make sure everybody's metaverse works with everyone else's, kind of like how web technologies mostly work together. It's made up of over 30 companies, but more significant is the list of companies that are missing. Apple, Roblox, and Niantic are nowhere to be seen. 

"Apple is incredibly methodical in its approach to new markets, and it's not unlike them to sit back and watch what other companies do before making their move. I don't believe that they're not interested in the market; it's only a matter of time before they introduce new technology that will enable Apple loyalists to take full advantage of what the metaverse has to offer," Paul Babb, CMO at Maxon, one of the companies in the new standards body, told Lifewire via email. 

Meta Purse

Apple has been working on its augmented reality (AR) tech for years, Roblox is a kind of virtual world of games, and Niantic is behind probably the only real-world AR smash hit to date, Pokémon Go. So having them absent from a standards body is bad news for that body. 

The goal of making the metaverse interoperable is good, but do we really know what the metaverse is? We know it is Mark Zuckerberg’s pipe dream, an escape from the dwindling interest in Facebook as users age and young people ignore it in favor of TikTok, Snapchat, and others. A virtual world where everybody’s interactions can be surveilled 100% is obviously right up Zuck’s alley. 

We also know that other companies are betting big—or at least hoping big—on a brand new marketing opportunity and not just a load of hooey. 

"The metaverse is estimated to be a $5T industry by 2030, so it's not bunk," metaverse expert and public speaker Kent Lewis told Lifewire via email. "However, the current hardware, graphical interfaces, and content are lackluster at best. Despite being around for 20+ years, virtual worlds and the tools needed to interact within those worlds are a few years away from mass adoption."

Imagine trying to goof off on Facebook while in the office if you have to put on VR goggles instead of just keeping a sneaky browser tab open. 

It’s Here, and It’s Not That Interesting

Person using a VR headset in a foggy environment

Jezael Melgoza / Unsplash

But even with the best hardware, how many of us want to don a headset to enter a metaverse? One could argue that we already have a metaverse, but it’s a reverse metaverse, one where virtual worlds are almost permanently present on our phone screens. Take a look at any street scene, or subway car, to see how many people are already deep into their online worlds. 

Pokémon Go is a great example of AR on a phone. Holding up a phone to view Pokémons overlaid on the real world was not a hindrance at all. In fact, it was part of the appeal—you don’t have to do anything you don’t do already. 

Perhaps this is why Pokémon Go maker Niantic is staying out of the new Metaverse Standards Forum. 

In Apple’s case, it could be a combination of keeping its intentions secret, for now, and not wanting to limit itself by adhering to standards for a technology that is far from understood, let alone mature. Apple has no problems contributing to standards when it suits it. The Matter standard for home automation incorporates Apple HomeKit tech, its Safari browser is based on the open-source Webkit, and Apple had a hand in the creation of USB-C

AR in the form foreseen by Apple, and already implemented by Niantic, seems much more plausible, an overlaying of the virtual onto the real.

While the hardware rumors are still shaky, the software already in Apple's products shows that it is betting on AR. Live Text lets you look up the world around you, AirPods already overlay audio notifications, and Spatial Audio can place audio anywhere in your field of hearing. Meanwhile, its Find My network already places almost all of your Apple devices into a virtual world, and its Live Translation feature would be just amazing used with AR glasses. 

A metaverse as envisioned by Mark Zuckerberg—a kind of Second Life but without any privacy whatsoever—might never appear, but AR in the form foreseen by Apple, and already implemented by Niantic, seems much more plausible, an overlaying of the virtual onto the real. If that's the case, and Apple gets to it first, then it will be dictating the standards, not those 30-odd companies in the Metaverse Standards Forum.

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