CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet

Meta and Microsoft are ready to map out metaverse tech. Apple and Google won’t be joining them

June 22, 2022, 6:34 PM UTC

Meta, Microsoft, and 35 other tech-adjacent organizations are banding together to build a foundation for the metaverse—even if Apple and Google, two of the biggest players on the block, aren’t ready to dive in.

The coalition of tech companies, retail outfits, and digital nonprofits announced Tuesday the formation of the Metaverse Standards Forum, an open consortium dedicated to developing metaverse interoperability protocols. In layman’s terms: The group wants to ensure future iterations of the still-nascent metaverse allow users to jump between platforms with minimal friction, with no single company dominating the landscape. 

Numerous details about the forum are unclear, and it’s possible that the work, loosely organized by industry consortium the Khronos Group, falls apart as the distant promise of metaverse riches moves closer. But at a minimum, the Metaverse Standards Forum is an encouraging sign for consumers, who benefit from the “open and inclusive” platform promised by the cooperative. 

“No one really knows how it’s all going to come together,” Neil Trevett, a vice president at chipmaker Nvidia and president of the Khronos Group, told The New Stack. “But that’s okay. For the purposes of the forum, we don’t really need to know. What we are concerned with is that there are clear, short-term interoperability problems to be solved.”

The metaverse remains in the earliest stages of infancy, to the point that there isn’t even a commonly accepted definition for it. But tech developers expect it will entail some mix of augmented reality, virtual reality, and connection to the more-traditional web.

To create these universes, developers likely would benefit from a shared language, similar to how the World Wide Web is powered by HTML5, CSS, and other programming tools. In theory, the Metaverse Standards Forum could craft open-source instruments for three-dimensional assets, geospatial systems, and virtual reality interfaces, among other high-tech features.

At this point, it’s far too early to predict whether the consortium will collaboratively work toward these noble goals. 

Divergent business demands could scuttle cooperation, particularly given that industry analysts see the metaverse as a multitrillion-dollar opportunity. The forum’s members hail from a broad cross-section of sectors, ranging from chipmakers (Qualcomm, Nvidia), to furniture retailers (Ikea, Wayfair), to software developers (Adobe, Autodesk).

Still, there’s enough information in Tuesday’s announcement to read into a couple of tea leaves.

The inclusion of Meta, Microsoft, and video game developer Epic Games hopefully signals that the tech powers do not envision the metaverse as a closed-off, oligopolistic locale, where two or three companies control the entire ecosystem. As it stands, all three of the aforementioned companies are at the mercy of the Apple iOS and Google Android smartphone operating systems, which leech up to 30% of app developers’ revenues and wield immense power over digital advertising.

“For those who think the risk of a fragmented metaverse is theoretical, look what has happened in the current internet,” Nick Clegg, Meta’s vice president of global affairs, wrote on Medium last month. “We have two operating systems that effectively create walled gardens—and in Apple’s case, a walled garden that is increasingly vertically integrated. As interoperability develops it needs to be driven by the interests of users, so that they are not randomly locked into one silo or another.”

For Meta, which is spending billions of dollars and staking its corporate future on pioneering the metaverse, there’s still huge promise of riches in metaverse hardware and software technology. It’s worth remembering that Apple’s hardware products—iPhones, iPads, Macs, Apple Watches, AirPods—accounted for 81% of its $365.8 billion in revenue last fiscal year. Meta recorded $117.9 billion in revenue in 2021, nearly all of which derived from advertising.

A more cynical outlook holds that Meta could use this forum to weaken its rivals by limiting their potential technological advantage, then building a superior, indispensable ecosystem that runs best on its hardware and tightly controlled platform.

To that end, the decision by Apple and Google to spurn the consortium could portend a smart go-it-alone strategy—though both companies could still jump on board later once their augmented and virtual reality plans take more shape. While Apple and Google have been at the forefront of web and smart home interoperability, the tech behemoths certainly have a financial interest in replicating their operating system dominance in the metaverse. 

For now, the Metaverse Standards Forum merely represents an early step toward an idealistic version of our digital future. Maybe, perhaps probably, it won’t work out. But at least they’re trying.

Want to send thoughts or suggestions for Data Sheet? Drop me a line here.

Jacob Carpenter

NEWSWORTHY

Sold on a settlement. Meta and federal officials announced a settlement agreement Tuesday in a case alleging that the company violated housing discrimination laws on its Facebook platform, the Wall Street Journal reported. As part of the settlement, Meta will change some of its advertising systems and undergo court oversight to ensure its algorithms do not discriminate against protected classes. The lawsuit stemmed from complaints that Facebook’s algorithms considered users’ sex, race, and religion when microtargeting them with ads for buying and renting homes.

Meet your new coworker. Amazon unveiled several new robotic technologies Tuesday that are designed to operate in the company’s bustling warehouses, where worker injuries and unionization drives have created headaches for the company, The Verge reported. The e-commerce giant debuted its first “fully autonomous mobile robot,” a Roomba-like device that can move large carts, as well as a robotic arm capable of lifting up to 50 pounds. Amazon also promoted a new feature that allows a warehouse camera to scan barcodes, eliminating the need for a hand scanner.

Mixed signals. Activision Blizzard shareholders backed a proposal Tuesday calling for the video game developer to release more information about workplace harassment and discrimination in light of numerous reports alleging widespread mistreatment of female employees, the Washington Post reported. The nonbinding proposal, voted on during the company’s annual shareholder meeting, urged Activision Blizzard to disclose sexual harassment settlements, compensation data, and other information. Shareholders of Activision—which Microsoft plans to acquire for $68.7 billion—also voted to reelect all 10 members of Activision Blizzard’s board, which has stood by the company’s leadership and refuted claims of systemic discrimination within the organization.

Some greener pastures? Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have signed an audio production deal with Audible, jumping to the Amazon unit after ending a three-year agreement with rival Spotify, Bloomberg reported Tuesday. The switch follows a rocky relationship between Spotify, the Obamas, and the couple’s production company, Higher Ground, which disagreed on content strategy. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, including whether Higher Ground offerings will be released on multiple audio platforms.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Shock to the system. Electric-vehicle charging companies are frothing over the $7.5 billion in federal funding allocated last year for building out a national network of charging stations. To get the biggest slice of the cash and gain valuable market share, top charging companies are increasingly diving into the merger and acquisition market, TechCrunch reported Tuesday. Several of the sector’s most promising players are bidding eight figures on firms that could help speed up charging times and quickly ramp up station manufacturing.

From the article:

Alongside the ambitious attempts at scaling, there has been a wave of consolidation. While some early adopters, like ChargePoint, EVGo, Electrify America and Tesla, have created large national EV charging infrastructure networks, they’ve by no means captured the entire market.

A recent spate of acquisitions in the electric vehicle charging space is outlining what consolidation in this industry looks like and which players might come out on top.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

“Super shady and unethical”: Why billionaires Elon Musk and Michael Dell are squabbling over radio spectrum, by Christiaan Hetzner

Crypto broker Voyager’s stock craters 60% after disclosure it’s unlikely to get $660 million back from wobbling hedge fund Three Arrows Capital, by Taylor Locke

A.I. that guesses your emotions could be misused and shouldn’t be available to everyone, Microsoft decides, by Christine Mui

“Crypto has had ups before, and it has had downs before”: Ethereum’s Vitalik Buterin is philosophical about the crash, by Taylor Locke

Deep learning pioneer Andrew Ng says companies should get “data-centric” to achieve A.I. success, by Jeremy Kahn

As the crypto winter sets in, some VCs are taking the long view, by Kevin Kelleher

BEFORE YOU GO

Grin and bear it. If you really hate crypto (or just think it’s an unwise investment), ProShares has a product for you. As Fortune’s Christiaan Hetzner reported, the Maryland-based financial firm launched an exchange-traded fund Tuesday that bets against Bitcoin prices, allowing crypto bears to put some cash behind their contempt. As ProShares CEO Michael Sapir also noted, his outfit’s ETF allows crypto investors to hedge on their Bitcoin investments. Potential buyers will have to weigh whether Bitcoin’s big swoon—its value has dropped 70% since November—is finally over or just getting started.

This is the web version of Data Sheet, a daily newsletter on the business of tech. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.