Magic Leap: DOA, over-hyped or still possible?

Well, maybe it IS only a lens. Not too long ago, Magic Leap were proclaiming they had more than just a lens, but a Photonic Chip. The Infromation thinks it was just more hype

Well, maybe it IS only a lens. Not too long ago, Magic Leap were proclaiming they had more than just a lens, but a Photonic Chip. The Infromation thinks it was just more hype. Credit: Wired.

Magic Leap has been the most controversial company in the emerging market of new VR, AR and MR technologies. Super-secretive but boasting an influx of US $1.4 billion in capital from leading technical and entertainments companies  – including Google – it has drawn a lot of attention, despite almost nothing of its technology being generally revealed.

Magic Leap promises a headset system which will be as easy to wear and remove as a pair of glass – but crucially, and despite several years of development work , has not revealed anything of what this headset might look like beyond various patent filings. In the meantime, the company has continued to release astonishing videos of their product’s apparent capabilities. Some of these were undeniably special effects enhanced pieces – but it now appears that this might be the case with more of the videos than the company were actually willing to let on.

In particular, on December 8th, the paywalled site The Information published a report on Magic Leap indicating that at least one of the more recent videos – that of office workers playing a shoot-’em-up game which was stated as being filmed using Magic Leap’s own technology was actually enhanced by Magic Leap partner, Weta Workshop (Weta’s head, Sir Richard Taylor, was an early investor in the company, and his business partner, director Peter Jackson, is an advisor). This has led to questions being raised over just how genuine Magic Leap is, and how real their product might in fact be.

The Verge summarises the report from The Information, pointing to the less-than-honest video and making mention of Magic Leap’s massive test rig, called The Beast, and the fact that as yet, the company hasn’t moved beyond a tethered headset style device which is claimed to give an inferior result when compared to Microsoft’s HoloLens. This has prompted others to question whether Magic Leap is dead – or potentially could be DOA, given it appears to lag behind what might be somewhat comparable products such as the HoloLens.

Magic Leap haven't been entirely secretive about the size of some of their test rigs. Credit: Peter Yang / Wired

Magic Leap haven’t been entirely secretive about the size of some of their test rigs. Credit: Peter Yang / Wired

As it is, the report from The Information stands sharply at odds with those from the likes of Wired, where Peter Yang from Wired spent time with Magic Leap back in April 2016, using that experience to tell The Untold Story of Magic Leap. Then, shortly ahead of The Information’s piece, and at the end of November, Forbes’ David Ewalt sat down with Magic Leap’s founder, Romy Abovitz. Like The Information’s Reed Albergotti, both Yang and Ewalt reference the fact that Magic leap utilises a headset rather than “glasses”, but that’s about all their articles have in common with Albergotti’s view. So where does that leave us?

First off, scepticism is healthy. There are many promises being made around VR / AR and MR, many of which could well be a mix of hype, hope and wishful endeavour. WE also have little ide just what reporters are being shown – and there is no denying Abovitz enjoys his role as unconventional showman.

Even so, it’s hard to see Magic Leap as purely being smoke and mirrors and flimflam; Abovitz has a track record of innovation and product delivery – he sold his medical robotic company for US $1.7 billion in 2009. Magic Leap has also made no secret of being in things for a long haul, developing a new paradigm in computing, while Albergotti acknowledges the company is now working towards a pair of glasses type of headset, albeit with different technology for their earlier work. Thus, writing them off entirely could be a premature.

A final point is that the company has never gone beyond saying a consumer product will be appearing “soonish”. Ewalt, writing for Forbes, estimates Magic Leap has perhaps another 18 months to go before a consumer launch. That’s a long time, given the HoloLens and Meta’s offerings will be out will before then. but the latter two are liable to have price tags of US $1,000 or more. If this is the case, are they really liable to corner the market, particularly if Magic Leap comes up with a product as user-friendly (and potentially superior) as Peter Yang at Wired feels will be the case – and at a lower price point, even if it is based on technology other than the hyped “Digital Lightfield™”?

The only thing we perhaps can say as a result of this is the hype trains – positive and negative – on what VR / AR / MR might or might not deliver will likely continue to rumble forward for a while yet.

With thanks to Roblem VR

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