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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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:

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.

Go deeper

Updated Jan 15, 2022 - Technology

The beauty business turns to augmented reality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Beauty brands are hiring — or buying — technology companies that let customers virtually try on makeup, hair and skin care products.

Why it matters: With COVID keeping people away from cosmetics counters, the latest thing in "beauty tech" is the VTO — or virtual try-on. Customers love playing with these apps so much that companies see big revenue boosts after introducing them.

Nathan Bomey, author of Closer
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Tesla delays Cybertruck until 2023

Tesla debuts the Cybertruck in Hawthorne, Calif., on Nov. 21, 2019. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Tesla is at risk of falling behind on one of the most critical products in the American auto industry: pickups.

Why it matters: Pickups are the most profitable segment in the business and account for the first, second and third best-selling vehicles in the country. Without a serious pickup strategy, Tesla could miss out on a huge source of future income.

Defense taking steps to mitigate civilian harm after botched airstrikes

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia on Sept. 1, 2021. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a directive Thursday to improve the U.S. military's approach to civilian harm mitigation and response, calling it a "strategic and a moral imperative."

Why it matters: The Pentagon has faced criticism for years for amassing civilian casualties in its missions, especially in the Middle East. New York Times investigations have found systemic failures in efforts to prevent civilian deaths, as well as a cover-up of a 2019 airstrike that killed dozens of women and children in Syria.