On a recent trip to Europe, Apple (AAPL 0.38%) CEO Tim Cook spoke with Dutch online media company Bright to discuss the future of technology. In the interview, Cook downplayed the metaverse, instead touting Apple's focus on augmented reality (AR). Cook said that one day, we will all "look back and think about how we once lived without AR."  

Meanwhile, Nvidia (NVDA 7.67%) spent an entire week at its biannual GTC event for tech developers, and the metaverse consumed a large amount of the time. In fact, CEO Jensen Huang talks about the metaverse a lot, and how it will shape the future.  

What in the name of metaverse originator Neal Stephenson is going on here? These debates about what the metaverse actually is and what it will do are becoming silly. Not to mention confusing for investors, let alone the everyday consumer, who is already overwhelmed by the rapid changes the world has undergone in the last few years. 

What is the metaverse anyway?

If you do a web search for "What is the metaverse?" you'll get as many variations on the answer as the times you click on an article (including one from yours truly). But let's let Jensen Huang settle it once and for all. In his keynote address at GTC 2022, he provided perhaps the simplest and most elegant definition to date: The metaverse is "the 3D internet." 

I really appreciate this description. Rather than trying to reinforce this notion that the metaverse is confusing and that no one wants it (like Cook did in the above-mentioned interview), Huang breaks it down into simple terms. If some web-based service or app you use has a three-dimensional element to it, let's just call it "the metaverse." 

Cook's comments about AR are perhaps the best clue we have that Apple is readying some sort of device, perhaps AR or virtual reality (VR) headsets (maybe -- there'll be an announcement in 2023). But if we view the metaverse through Huang's simple take, Apple is getting involved with the metaverse, too, whether it likes it or not. AR and VR applications will be web-based, and many AR apps are already available on the Apple App Store. I'm calling it like I see it: Apple Metaverse.  

It's all marketing! Elementary, my dear Watson.

If you're still with me, let's turn to this question: Why all the tech CEO disagreements on what the metaverse is and what kind of future it will have? If the metaverse is just a 3D representation of the internet, a technology we all use every day and absolutely can agree has a well-established definition, why jockey for attention by bashing it? Or hype the metaverse like it's this brand-new shiny thing that's being built from scratch?

It's simple: marketing. 

Like any good "walled garden" business, Apple has a vested interest in putting down other companies' technology efforts while championing its own. After all, why would Apple use such a term when Meta (META -0.07%), formerly Facebook, literally changed its name to a contracted form of "metaverse" to indicate its 3D web app future? Apple has gone to great lengths to try to weaken Meta's (ahem, Facebook's) hold on its iPhone users' data

In contrast, like any good "platform" business model that helps others build tech for themselves, Huang is being inclusive and touting how the metaverse can mean different things for different consumers and businesses. Thus the term "Omniverse" for its new cloud-based collaboration and development apps.

If you're a video game company, the metaverse might mean an immersive 3D game. If you're a manufacturing company, the metaverse might mean a virtual re-creation of your factory used for planning purposes. And if you're a medical college, the metaverse might mean an AR app that trains students how to practice medicine.  

Someday, hopefully soon, we can all agree to call the 3D extension of the internet the same thing. Maybe it will be "the metaverse," maybe it will be something else (like "3D internet," or, I dunno, maybe just "the internet"). 

But one thing is for sure: This thing we're discussing is already here, and new capabilities using 3D virtual content are being developed. Any differences you hear in what all this is and what it means from various CEOs' perspectives is simply marketing to get us all ready to buy into it. 

Now it's time for you, the investor, to decide which businesses you like best to capitalize on 3D virtualization. I, for one, think Apple and Nvidia both are pretty good bets.