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Why didn’t Tim Cook say that word ‘metaverse’ at WWDC keynote?


Jun 5, 2023
Why didn't Tim Cook say that word 'metaverse' at WWDC keynote?


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As predicted, Apple CEO Tim Cook didn’t mention the word “metaverse” when he introduced the Apple Vision Pro mixed reality headset today.

It was easy to predict that Apple was going to introduce a mixed-reality headset today, and it did so with the announcement of the Apple Vision Pro AR/VR headset.

And Cook said that the headset would inaugurate a “new era of spatial computing,” but he did not mention the metaverse.

Cook has made fun of the metaverse word before during previous talks, saying that the metaverse wasn’t the future because people don’t understand it. I had the feeling he was taking jabs at Mark Zuckerberg’s full-scale embrace of the word by renaming Facebook as Meta in the fall of 2021.

And since Zuckerberg got there first — decades after Stephenson’s book, of course — Cook didn’t want to seem like he was chasing someone else’s idea. And you could argue that Zuckerberg’s adoption of the metaverse was not successful so far, as Meta has had to lay off more than ten thousand people in recent months. Internet trolls loved making fun of Zuckerberg’s avatar and his metaverse vision.

A lot of haters have been saying the metaverse was overhyped ever since Zuckerberg’s announcement and they have been disappointed with announcements that seem so underwhelming or scammy. Searches for the word metaverse have plummeted in the past year. As a practical matter, then, Cook would probably be better off creating a new description or word, aside from a word that is on its way downward in popular discourse.

I can sympathize with that. Nobody wants to have their brand new creation compared to something that people have already decided was part of a hype wave.

The contenders for the metaverse. Will Tim Cook win?
The contenders for the metaverse. Will Tim Cook win?

Neal Stephenson coined the term “metaverse” 30 years ago in his sci-fi novel Snow Crash. And Stephenson himself is has become more active in defending the use of the word as well. He doesn’t seem to want it to be co-opted by company’s whose intentions are to build more walled gardens around the internet. Instead, he has become an advocate of the open metaverse using blockchain technology that can be used to decentralize ownership of the metaverse.

Mathew Ball, CEO of Epyllion, said in a tweet before the announcement, “Near 0 chance [that Cook would use the word metaverse]. Don’t think Jobs even said smartphone at iPhone announcement. No benefit, either.” Ball defines the metaverse as a “persistent and interconnected network of 3D virtual worlds that will eventually serve as the gateway to most online experiences, and also underpin much of the physical world.”

Cook, of course, didn’t mention the words “open” or “openness” while describing the Apple Vision Pro today either. And so I think we can see why the word metaverse, which I hope will one day be a universe of virtual worlds as plentiful as the stars in the sky, isn’t being used by a $2.89 trillion company.

Cook is no dummy. If the metaverse was popularized by others but Cook wants people to think Apple has invented all of this technology first, then I wouldn’t use that term either.

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