CES 2022 brought pieces of the metaverse into view
The grand metaverse that tech enthusiasts talked up last year remains a distant goal for the industry, but this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas showed off a few of its building blocks as they begin to materialize.
Why it matters: The full vision of a shared, 3D digital dimension a la "Ready Player One" is probably still a decade away — but it won't arrive out of nowhere in one piece. Instead, it will show up in bits and chunks, clunky and disjointed, before coalescing into something both functional and useful.
- Unless, of course, all this turns out to be another false start for a VR industry that has been promising us one metaverse or another for three decades now.
Here are notable examples of CES' steps toward a metaverse:
- Panasonic subsidiary Shiftall introduced a $270 body tracking suit, due out this spring, that helps bring legs into the metaverse. It's a little thing, sure, but most people traveling around today's VR experiences are only a head and torso — or at least that's all that is being tracked and displayed.
- Pebble Feel is a body-worn accessory that recreates heat and cold to make virtual reality a little more like the real world. As a bonus, it can also act as both a personal AC and heater for those times when people have to contend with non-virtual weather.
- Another startup put a different twist on the VR vest, focusing on tactile feedback rather than temperature.
- Samsung announced TVs that can display NFTs. With many metaverse boosters touting a crypto/Web3 dimension to the world-building project, anything that makes virtual objects more visible in multiple places could speed their adoption.
Be smart: Most visions of a metaverse imagine an immersive digital space shared by many companies and individuals. Meta's Andrew Bosworth has described it as the embodied internet.
- All the tech giants are investing in different pieces of that future, including Google, Meta and Apple, as well as a host of startups working on pieces of it.
- While some of the needed technology is available today and other parts are working just fine in labs, breakthroughs are still needed in display technology, miniaturization, battery life and cost to create headsets that are comfortable, affordable and can last for more than a couple hours at a time.
- The broader idea of a single, interoperable metaverse where you can easily move, and take your stuff, from one company's turf to the next remains theoretical. Many firms have pledged to support that goal but few have begun working it into their plans.
Yes, but: There was also a lot of just plain buzz and hype, applying the word "metaverse" to anything remotely related to virtual or augmented reality.
- Many CES observers suggested a drinking game in which keynote watchers took a shot every time the metaverse was mentioned — but that would have been a recipe for alcohol poisoning.
- This Twitter thread collected photos chronicling CES abuses of the metaverse label.