It’s taken four years, but MagicLeap’s first consumer product is almost here
It wouldn’t be unfair to call MagicLeap the biggest tease in tech. Founded in 2011 by bioengineer Rony Abovitz, the secretive startup has managed to hit a valuation of $6bn without releasing a single piece of working technology. In fact, a software development kit (SDK) was scheduled for 2015, but never shipped. According to Abovitz, however, this is all about to change. This year, MagicLeap plans to release a ‘creator edition’ called MagicLeap One, consisting of a pair of Augmented Reality goggles powered by a miniature computer and accompanied by a handheld controller. Following this, the company has announced a new SDK. Will MagicLeap’s long awaited creator edition and SDK be able to meet expectations, and how will it impact the adoption of Augmented Reality?
The MagicLeap mystery
MagicLeap’s journey has been cryptic to say the least. As far as public announcements go, the company has done little more than create an intriguing website and some concept videos. Amazingly, this was enough to attract the attention of investors such as Google, and the startup has now raised almost $2bn. It was the $540m of venture capital investment gained in 2014 that funded the first headset prototypes. Two years later, and the Lightwear goggles are making their debut. As well as four microphones, six external cameras, built in speakers, sensors and room mapping technology, Lightwear also comes with 360 degree soundfield audio – a feature which no doubt complements the company’s inventive audiovisual project alongside art-rock bank Sigur Ros. As of yet, it’s unclear as to when the headset and SDK will be available. . . but what is certain is that MagicLeap has some serious competition.
The most direct threat is arguably HoloLens, but also includes the likes of Lenovo, Mira Labs, Apple, and even their own investors at Google. MagicLeap’s contribution to the market is going to have to be pretty impressive to satisfy the curious companies and consumers who have waited years for a product release. So far, reviews have been largely positive. Rolling Stone’s Glixel, for example, was invited to the company’s headquarters to try out a number of demos, reporting that they were lifelike and immersive. It’s wise to take any product review with a pinch of salt, but it looks like high end consumer AR could finally be here.
What’s next for Augmented Reality?
The availability of high quality AR has obvious applications in gaming and entertainment, which in turn opens up advertising opportunities. MagicLeap’s audiovisual app, Tonandi, could also transform the music industry by enabling people to experience music in a whole new way. Augmented Reality has countless potential industrial uses – something that Google clearly wants to capitalise on with their latest Google Glass Enterprise Edition. So, aside from continuing to encourage AR adoption, perhaps the most disruptive consequences of Lightwear will surround the claims that digital objects are almost indistinguishable from things in the real world. If this is proven to be true, providing such a rich experience will transform the nature of AR. It will no longer be a case of simply putting a temporary, digital cloak over the real world. One of MagicLeap’s demos, for example, involves an AR human. These avatars could become physical representations for personal assistants like Siri and Alexa, living in our homes constantly. This will change the way that people interact with technology, altering reality as we know it by blurring the digital and physical divide. Although this depends on the mainstream adoption of AR, it’s beginning to seem almost inevitable.
MagicLeap’s creator edition could be the most anticipated product release of this year. The Augmented Reality scene has experienced unprecedented growth, and now seems like the ideal time for Abovitz’s characteristically quiet company to come out of hiding. Lightwear’s success, though, hinges on quality, utility and of course, pricing. If their Lightwear headset fails to impress, this will be a crushing blow and could lead to even more years of radio silence. Admittedly, this seems unlikely given the sheer amount of interest and investment in the company’s development. Nonetheless, the software and hardware can be second to none, but if it’s the wrong price, mainstream adoption will be a difficult task. Either way, the tech community continues to wait patiently for MagicLeap. Announcements are one thing, but for many, MagicLeap One will need to be seen to be believed.
Can MagicLeap One live up to expectations? Could 2018 be the year that AR breaks into the mainstream market? Will MagicLeap’s years of silent development pay off? Share your thoughts.