An image from the first video shown by Magic Leap, reportedly rendered using special effects.
There is vaporware and then there's oh-shut-up-and-just-release-the-damn-product-ware. The latter is what many have come to think of when the name Magic Leap is mentioned.
And with good reason.
Founded back in 2011, the hype train for what many believe is an augmented reality headset or glasses company left the station around 2014. Since then, the company has racked up investments from the likes of Google and others amounting to over $1 billion, as well as tantalizing testimonials from high-profile names who have tried the technology and have indicated that it's so impressive it may change computing forever.
There was just one problem, the first footage we saw from Magic Leap wasn't a real demonstration of the technology.
Instead, it was, according to reports, a special effects-laden video designed to excite would-be employees and the public alike. Since then, additional videos have surfaced that the company claims were shot directly through Magic Leap technology.
But after years of teases using amazing images and video, as well as lofty speeches by the company's CEO, Rony Abovitz, many have begun to doubt that Magic Leap actually has any magic dust in its secretive Florida headquarters at all.
The final straw for many came in early December when a damning report from The Information claimed that, after sampling Magic Leap's tech, it just wasn't that impressive or ready for consumers.
Since then, the schadenfreude knives have come out, with reports surfacing that even Beyoncé, when given a demonstration of Magic Leap, was bored by the product.
An image of what Business Insider claims is a Magic Leap prototype photo leak.
IMAGE: SCREENSHOT OF BUSINESS INSIDER WEBSITE
Finally, in the first weeks of 2017, Business Insider released a photo it claimed was a recent prototype of the device. Looking like a cross between a Ghostbusters backpack and something you might find in the lab of an MIT grad student, the image was immediately shared widely, heaping even more doubt on the prospects of Magic Leap delivering a commercial product anytime soon.
Soon after, Abovitz took to Twitter to deny that the photos represented the Magic Leap product slated to eventually be delivered to the public. But still, Abovitz refused to go into any detail about when the "real" product might be released, what the product looks like, or how much it might cost.
Back in 2015, I was told during a private meeting in New York with a Magic Leap executive that that there would even be major developer conference event in the coming months. As far as I know, it never happened. The implied message then was the same as it is now: Trust us, be patient, Magic Leap is amazing.
That might've played a couple of years ago, but today, the benefit of the doubt bank is officially empty.
Now, with the suddenly and high-profile departures of both the company's marketing chief and public relations chief in December, and a "hostile environment sex discrimination" lawsuit filed by its fired vice president of strategic marketing revealed on Monday, all the secrecy around Magic Leap has congealed into a toxic stew of doubt.
A crucial line in the fired executive's lawsuit may be the most damning review of Magic Leap yet. According to a document [PDF] included in a CNET report, the executive, "also raised concerns that what Magic Leap showed the public in marketing material was not what the product actually could do — admonitions ignored in favor of her male colleagues’ assertions that the images and videos presented on Magic Leap’s website and on YouTube were 'aspirational,' and not Magic Leap's version of 'alternate facts.'"
At this point, we need to see something close to "magic."
Some have compared Magic Leap's failure to present a compelling product to the public to the Theranos debacle. We're not there yet with Magic Leap, but when former executives start tossing Trumpian verbiage into the confusion around your unreleased product, you've got yuge problems.
Here's the bottom line: If Magic Leap is not at least a major order of magnitude better than Microsoft's HoloLens augmented realty headset, then this was all just one of the most brilliant marketing campaigns ever pulled on the public.
Sure, Microsoft's HoloLens is impressive, and I believe it has an exciting roadmap ahead as developers continue to build on its augmented reality platform. However, if the HoloLens had been cloaked in secrecy, I would not have emerged from my private demo of the technology calling it a seismic computing development that would change everything, as many have framed Magic Leap. Being even close to HoloLens won't justify the hype Magic Leap has stoked.
That's what Magic Leap is up against. At this point, we need to see something close to "magic." No, that's not totally fair, but they built their air castles and they have to live in them.
If it turns out that Magic Leap is indeed leaps and bounds better than the HoloLens, and revolutionary, that would be fantastic. And all signs point to at least the trimmings of something big, with the involvement of Lucasfilm, Legendary Entertainment and sci-fi great Neal Stephenson.
But there's a point at which mysterious hyperbole must resolve itself into impressive reality. Otherwise, the purveyors of said breakthrough tech have to answer for selling an outsized dream that failed to materialize.
No more videos that may or may not involve special effects. No more patent drawings. No more leaked photos. No more. It's time to put up or close up.
The ephemeral light and shadow of augmented reality is fascinating and full of interactive promise, but in the end, Magic Leap will be judged on what it can actually put in our hands and on our faces.
Promise nothing, just ship.