Magic Leap is one of the most hyped and closely followed tech startups on the scene right now. With all of this excitement, can the company live up to the expectation?
Magic Leap, the Florida-based startup, recently announced that it had raised $461 million from the Saudi Arabian sovereign investment arm. Despite the fact that Magic Leap One “Creator Edition” has not yet been released, this funding doesn’t come as a surprise.
This investment follows a $502 million investment led by Temasek in October, the number of unanswered questions surrounding this mysterious mixed-reality technology notwithstanding.
This raises the question: why do these companies continue to invest despite arguments that Magic Leap is set to fail?
The recent years have seen Magic Leap become arguably the most hyped up tech product to date. Its founder Rory Abovitz has made sure little about the product is revealed.
When scarce details were released, they came in the form of excitement rather than information. Technical terms tangled up without explanation helped us to decode Abovitz’s vision.
Magic Leap promised to use a combination of augmented and virtual reality with a dynamic digital light field signal coordinated with the human eye and brain to produce 3D images that are indistinguishable from what we see in the real world. The potential of enabling our wildest imaginings was clearly very enticing.
In Abovitz’s legendary TEDx talk in 2012, which mystified us all, he promised there was a coherent message for us to decipher in between the appearance of a John Lennon (perhaps his glasses provided some inspiration?), monsters, and nanobots floating in a seascape.
However, he mysteriously canceled his second TED appearance, in 2015 for reasons unknown (Maybe the monsters were ill that day?).
This was followed by dazzling images of humpback whales appearing in a classroom and the milky way lighting up a living room in promotional videos on YouTube.
All of this hype sounds impressive, and at the time it was.
Perhaps this is why Magic Leap went on to capture the attention from investors such as Legendary Entertainment, who gave us films like Interstellar. They also attracted Weta Workshop, who we can thank for Avatar and The Lord of the Rings.
Fast forward to 2018, when the Magic Leap glasses prototype has been revealed and are finally available to pre-order. Sorry to burst your balloon Magic Leap, but hot-air will only get you so far.
This product is destined to fail. Why? Because like Google Glass, Vive and Hololens ETC, it’s just not good enough to succeed.
What Does Magic Leap Promise?
For anyone who missed the Magic Leap hype boat, here’s a quick overview of exactly what it promised to be and what it is.
Magic Leap’s device is made up of three parts.
A headset called ‘Lightwear’ which resemble goggles are tethered to a ‘lightpack’, a pocket-sized computer pod with a long cable. The third component, known as a ‘control’ is used to navigate the system.
Magic Leap was founded on the idea that computing and technology should serve people first and enhance our experience while respecting human physiology.
How? According to the Magic Leap website, it uses light-field photonics to generate digital light at different depths that blend seamlessly with natural light to produce lifelike digital objects that coexist in our environment.
Supposedly, this advanced technology allows our brains to naturally process digital objects in the same way as ‘real-world’ objects, making it comfortable to use for long periods of time.
Why? This computing platform claims to offer a wide variety of applications. It can be used by web developers so that consumers can browse 3D objects while shopping online.
It claims that, before, games transported us to different worlds. Instead, Magic Leap intertwines entertainment with our already present reality.
It also promised to allow us to communicate with friends and colleagues online while digitally sharing the same physical space by means of avatars.
Finally, it claimed that it will be extremely helpful in enhancing the way we learn and will help to develop the way humans are educated.
These capabilities all sound great. But does Magic Leap actually deliver something that is any better or different than what came before?
Many other attempts to introduce augmented reality to everyday life have been interesting to watch develop but have largely become commercial flops.
When we take a closer look, it seems that there’s a huge difference between what Magic Leap is promising and what it’s actually offering.
Magic Leap’s Downfall: Unsuitable for Life and Lacking in Style
Since its original prototype was created in 2011, Magic Leap worked intensely to shrink its technology down as much as possible. However, the release of Magic Leap One shows that they should have tried harder.
Although creators describe the device to be lightweight and engineered to be comfortable enough for hours of exploration, the design is still too bulky.
In order to offer an augmented reality that Sci-Fi dreams are made of, the ‘lightwear’ goggles use four built-in microphones to sense the sound around the user and a real-time vision processor with six external cameras to track the user and their surroundings.
High-end speakers are also built into the temples of the device which provide spatial sound and react to the user’s movement and the movements and interactions with the Magic Leap world. No wonder the headgear is big and bulky. Another major obstacle that may prevent commercial success: lightwear looks like Riddick’s goggles.
We doubt that people are going to jump at the opportunity to walk around all day with a hip-mounted mini computer strapped to their hip. Even if you argue that a larger-than-life influencer could popularize this, Magic Leap has major work to do here.
Yes, it’s reasonably compact, but it will hardly sneak into everday life. Instead, it will be a cumbersome addition to the wardrobe.
Experience has revealed that the more accessible and user-friendly a product is, the more likely it will catch on, even if it is not a necessity. When marketing a product to the masses, Magic Leap isn’t offering a product that is going to seriously impact on the regular joe’s life.
Anything that is significantly more difficult than using a smartphone or tablet could be problematic. This could be a challenge for Magic Leap one.
Limited Field of View and Excess Cables Take the Magic Out of the Leap
Even from the scantily described clues that the obsessively secretive company have allowed us, the future of Magic Leap doesn’t look very promising.
Besides the headset being too ridiculous to wear in public, the extra cables and limited field of view take the magic out of the leap.
As we know, the processing done by Magic Leap is performed on a portable device known as the lightpack. The creator compares this to a MacBook Pro or an Alienware PC, only far more compact.
With CPU, GPU, drive, and WiFi, he describes the device as ‘a computer folded up into itself’. However, the result of this is that Magic Leap is unable to take advantage of advanced graphics, as seen in Vive or Oculus.
Although Microsoft’s HoloLens, uses different technology to create mixed reality, both fail miserably when it comes to the field of view.
The realness of the experience Magic Leap is trying to convey is seriously depreciated because it does not offer a field of view that matches your eyes.
According to Rolling Stone, the viewing space Magic Leap offers is about the size of a VHS tape held in front of you with your arms half extended.
The view it offers is also floating in space. To its credit, Magic Leap lightwear does offer a viewing space that is larger than the HoloLens. Nevertheless, the limited field of view greatly imposes on the user’s ability to forget that what they see before them isn’t really there.
This, when added to lower-than-average graphics capability means the Magic of Magic Leap One leaves much to be desired.
A lot of ambiguity also surrounds the Magic Leap One when it comes to its ability to deliver multiple viewpoints. The few lucky ones who have gotten to test the technology, like Rolling Stone or Wired, say that demonstrations didn’t present the opportunity to see if the goggles could do this effectively.
A light field should allow users to look past the created image to the reality behind it thus meaning the closer image loses some focus.
However, when Bovitz has been asked directly about the googles ability to deliver multiple viewpoints, he has refused to comment. If it did have this capability, surely he would want potential consumers to know, right?
High-powered processing and graphics are wonderful in theory. However, if the battery life is poor, then the experience the device offers as a whole is going to be seriously downgraded.
As Abovitz has refrained from telling us what the battery life of the Magic Leap One is, chances are it isn’t earthshaking. He has admitted that battery optimization is still something the company is working on which is all very well for future models.
However, all signs point to the Magic Leap One being somewhat unimpressive in terms of length of use.
When a product isn’t living up to its hype or promises, price becomes an even more significant point of interest. The Magic Leap founder alluded to price in the infamous Rolling stone reveal, “Pre-order and pricing will come together. I would say we are more of a premium computing system. We are more of a premium artisanal computer.”
Taking into account that the Microsoft HoloLens costs $3,000 and Google Glass costs $1,500, Magic Leap isn’t going to be cheap.
Finally, the Magic Leap Website displays a disclaimer stating that the product you receive may be different to the prototype promised on the website. It doesn’t take a seasoned legal professional to understand that this is just clever defense, but it doesn’t dispell doubts either.
Will even the most artisanal loving tech addicts want to fork out thousands for something with a less-than-impressive guarantee?
What Could Change the Fate of Magic Leap?
So, if the Lightwear shows poorly, what would succeed in its place?
To be successful, Magic Leap would need to provide a larger field of view. Magic Leap and the existing app ecosystem (via merger or purchase) would also need to offer a wireless mode with desktop or laptop graphics card. That’s not all, but they could be three huge flaws in the Magic Leap’s design.
While Magic Leap technology has a good chance of leading the mixed reality field, the Magic Leap goggles will be nothing more than a curiosity a la Google Glass.
However if Magic Leap One does fail, at least it will have made history and failed spectacularly.
“Our first system will be the first step towards a really cool dream. Of flying squirrels and sea monkeys and rainbow powered unicorns”, Abovitz said. By the looks of things, for now, a dream it will remain.