The Reality Of Magic Leap One

The Reality Of Magic Leap One
August 14, 2018

I've had a few days to live with the Magic Leap One and it's time to finally weigh in with some thoughts as someone who has been tracking this company from the beginning, for almost five years now.


Let's get right to the meat of the matter: Magic Leap One is not a flop. Not in terms of sales (the target, for now, is developers), and not in terms of performance and overall experience. This is the best augmented reality I've seen, full stop.


Does it live up to the hype that the company's CEO Rony Abovitz stoked for years? No. But I never bought that hype. A few years ago, when I met with the company in my old office in Manhattan, I spent a couple of hours grilling them about how the device worked, what it looked, and how it might perform. In hindsight, some of the answers turned out to be accurate, and others, not so much. Around that time, I was in the process of immersing myself deeper in VR and how it worked, and what was and wasn't possible on a technical level.


Later, it didn't take long for me to become intimately familiar with the HoloLens, as well as other, lower-end AR headsets and mobile apps. Because of this, sometime around early 2017, I determined that, whatever NDA-locked people were saying about Magic Leap, it would likely be, at best, just a better version of the HoloLens. That was well over a year ago, having had no direct contact with the device. My expectations were set: If Magic Leap was at least significantly better than the HoloLens, then we were at least moving forward. Anything more would have been a surprise bonus in my view.


My point is, if you bought into Magic Leap's massive hype, it's your fault for not doing more research into the state of the art of immersive computing. If you look around, many developers who work daily on VR and AR are absolutely happy with the Magic Leap One (maybe not happy with the price, but that's a different matter). They know what they're holding in their hands. Many sideline critics (some of whom haven't even tried it yet) are gleefully hitting Magic Leap for lackluster reviews. But the harshest of those reviews speak more to the hype generated by Magic Leap, versus the more realistic, incremental step the company's device represents.

Image by Bryan Crow/Next Reality


Sure, I was absolutely "ready" to be surprised and blown away by something totally unexpected in the Magic Leap One, but I didn't "expect" to be taken by surprise. I live this stuff. VR and AR are my obsessions. So if I had been surprised, I wouldn't have just been surprised, I would have astounded. I suspect many VR and AR veterans had the same, more realistic expectations, and that's why you're seeing them all over Twitter enjoying their Magic Leap One devices.


No, this is not a mainstream consumer hit-level product. It's just too new in so many ways, even for VR and AR veterans. I'm still figuring out how to get the best experience out of it myself. But as a first-generation device, the Magic Leap One is an incredibly polished and sophisticated experience, from hardware to software. That said, in contrast, the HoloLens AR experience features ghostly, translucent images, and such a tiny field of view (30 degrees horizontal and 17 degrees vertical) that, for me, it's hard to remain interested in looking for the virtual objects and interfaces peeking out from the tiny visual porthole.


However, with the Magic Leap One, the virtual objects are stunningly clear and crisp, in many cases looking about as real as they might in VR, which is huge. The spatial audio is also more effective, adding to the sense of immersion. Also, the Magic Leap One has a larger field of FoV (40 degrees horizontal, 30 degrees vertical), which takes the AR headset experience from experiment to actually usable for long stretches of time. I can easily see myself watching long form videos and interacting other 3D content using this device.


Still, those who have dinged the Magic Leap One's FoV are right, it really limits the full sense of immersion you get in VR, and that hinderance is what makes it more like a much better HoloLens than an entirely new category of device. Like some others, the Magic Leap One didn't "blow me away," but knowing how hard it was to do this (remember, no one else has at this level, yet), I was impressed.


Over the coming days and weeks, we'll reveal more about the device as we test its apps and show you more of what the experience looks like. But beyond the device itself, the question many still have is whether or not this was worth several billions in investment. Well, that's a question only the market can truly answer, but as it stands now, Magic Leap's fate is mostly in the hands of developers, and a small group of developers at that.


Aside from only being available in six cities, the $2,300 price tag will simply be too high for all but the most successful, cash flow positive developers who can afford to take the time and money risk on a new device that doesn't have an audience yet (and may, possibly, never garner a significant user base). Major partnerships with media and entertainment studios are great, but until this is a truly consumer-friendly device, the Magic Leap One is at the mercy of the reliably finicky developer community.

But there's one more thing Magic Leap has to worry about: Apple Glasses, those rumored AR smartglasses Apple is almost certainly working on, possibly coming as soon as 2021. Apple Glasses aren't here yet, but now that the magic trick has been pulled off by Abovitz, leaving some unimpressed, or simply uninterested, many have already begun turning their attentions to counting down the months and years until Apple Glasses come to eat everyone's AR lunch.


Abovitz is already promising a second, better version of the Magic Leap device in the future, but for that to matter it will have to be far better than Microsoft's HoloLens 2.0, which is coming in 2019. Microsoft may move slowly, but it's a fast learner, and now that it has seen and likely used the Magic Leap One, we can expect the next HoloLens to be a beast.


But it's not all gloom and doom for Magic Leap. Users appear to be incredibly happy with the device, and we'll likely start seeing some truly stunning creations in the coming weeks and months. Nevertheless, Magic Leap no longer has the element of surprise. We now know what it is, and what it isn't. Therefore, moving forward, any "magic" promised by Abovitz will need to be truly transcendent versus the competition, because the Apple Glasses countdown has begun, and its shadow looms over the entire AR industry, Magic Leap included.

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