5 Reasons People are Skeptical about Metaverse + One More
Meta’s Metaverse initiatives and struggles have been discussed and analyzed extensively by a number of people, and I share a lot of the skepticism about Meta’s vision, as well as how the company has executed it so far.
In most debates and conversations about Meta’s strategy, multiple aspects or categories of objections get mixed up, and I think that confuses the issue quite a bit. Let’s first sort out the various types of concerns that people express to clarify the debate a little.
Dislike purely based on the hype vs. current reality: This is the easy one. Meta has gone all in on Metaverse to such an extent, that for many people the stark difference between what Zuckerberg keeps projecting and what the state of AR and VR today is simply a source of indignation. The gap between what is and what can be is so vast that people simply assume the ‘what can be’ part is an outrageous lie or a shameless PR spin, and dismiss it entirely.
Objections based on the fuzziness of the concept: Metaverse is, after all, a branding/marketing term and not a specific technology. A whole host of possible technologies, interfaces, input mechanisms, and more are getting bundled into this broad, high-level concept called Metaverse. And we’re expected to pretend as if it’s a real thing, and that the name clearly and automatically defines what it is.
Practicality: People who look at the current state of affairs are skeptical about its viability, as there are significant hardware and usability limitations that are not easy to look past. Frankly, VR hardware is today ‘strappable’ rather than wearable. It’s a bit like having a clock strapped to your wrist instead of a watch, and calling it a wearable. So these objections are fair, but it’s not unreasonable to think that down the line, these practical concerns could all be solved one way or another.
Because we don’t believe Meta can execute: These are objections based on skepticism about Meta’s ability to execute, and to succeed on the Metaverse front. To be fair, Meta’s track record of executing on multiple things is certainly poor, and failures include the feed, which they’ve messed up multiple times, the Facebook phone, which was a dud, attempts to launch a Facebook for the workplace product, and much more. In fact, beyond the core Facebook product, most of the successes from the company have come only through acquisitions such as Whatsapp and Instagram. An argument can be made that Meta’s VR efforts also started through the acquisition of Oculus, but given the fact that John Carmack, the Oculus CTO, recently left Meta while quite publicly criticizing how the company is run and managed, it’s not unreasonable to wonder about Meta’s ability to execute on the Metaverse front.
Because we dislike Meta: The fact that Meta is doing it. Not entirely unreasonable that many people don’t really want Meta to succeed here. Their thinking is that the company is morally bankrupt, is run with questionable ethics, has been involved in too many scandals, and so on. These are people who genuinely believe that Meta is not a net positive for the world. For them, then, it’s an ideological stance that Meta should fail, which is often stated as Meta WILL fail. In these cases, AR/VR technologies are dismissed outright not necessarily based on their own merit, but as a way to present a desire for Meta to fail.
Where is Facebook Watch? My One Reason
OK, so Facebook Watch does exist, and it’s a weird video service bundled into Facebook—sort of like YouTube—where, as far as I can tell, random people upload random videos of highly questionable quality, and Facebook chooses to present the worst of them to me in a random pattern. It’s a disaster. But what I meant is: where is Meta’s answer to the Apple Watch?
As is well-known, Meta’s entire reason for going all in on Metaverse, and sinking tens of billions of dollars into it, is that the company is today in a weak position, where the big platform owners in mobile—Apple and Google—leave it vulnerable. We’ve seen this in the way Apple’s ‘Do Not Track’ feature rolled out and impacted Meta adversely, and the company could do nothing about it aside from making a ton of noise in the media
Zuckerberg’s email from 2015 shows a clear awareness of this problem, and lays out his vision for Metaverse as the way to solve this vulnerability problem. The idea is that Apple and Google have a tight control on the mobile ecosystem, and it’s too late to fight that. Instead, it would be better for Meta to look ahead, anticipate the next big revolution in computing, and make sure that Meta is there at the right time, in a position to establish dominance in the new revolution.
Which brings me to my question: Where is Facebook Watch? Meta failed with launching their own phone, but why haven’t they launched another product like the Apple Watch? The reason is simple: the Apple Watch is a product that works well as an add-on accessory to the iPhone. In other words, Apple leveraged its dominance in mobile to launch a new product. This is why Apple Watch is a success, while Facebook Watch doesn’t exist.
For some reason, Zuckerberg and Meta seem to be convinced that the AR/VR tech space is entirely neutral, and that Apple will not be able—or will not try to—to carry over the advantages from its dominance in mobile to AR and VR. I don’t quite see that happening, though. When Apple does launch its AR/VR wearable, they will almost certainly build something that is strongly tethered to the iPhone, at least in the first few years. This will allow Apple to establish a clear presence in the market, and the company will establish a lead in such a way that it would be too late for Meta and others to make a serious dent in the new market and to challenge Apple’s dominant position.
Meta is looking for the next big thing in computing—something that’s so new and revolutionary that the players dominating the current computing wave will not be able to carry over any ecosystem or network effects advantages when going after the new opportunity. We’ve seen this play out in the way we transitioned from the desktop/laptop wave of computing to mobile computing. While in theory this is the right strategy, the assertion that Metaverse is the next big thing, and that Apple and Google will not be able to make any impact there feels highly optimistic to me.
NOTE: I’m one of the co-founders at [x]cube LABS, where we work with enterprises to provide digital technology and product engineering services. AR and VR-focused services are a relatively smaller part of our business, but they’re growing rapidly. I personally do think there is significant potential for AR and VR, and it’s certainly a technology (to use the term rather loosely) that will be important in the future. My skepticism is about whether these technologies will be as fundamentally revolutionary as mobile computing, as well as whether Meta is truly in a position to establish dominance notwithstanding their various proclamations. We do believe, however, that there are genuine use cases for them in the consumer space as well as in the enterprise space.
I write about technology, user experience, product design, and more. I also review some (not all) of the books I read.