Is Magic Leap the Most Overhyped Company in Augmented Reality?: Page 2 of 2

In a live stream, secretive augmented-reality hardware company Magic Leap pulled back the curtain a bit on its One AR headset. Has the company lived up to the hype yet?

This will be particularly important if Magic Leap intends to go after the Hololens market and capture enterprise users, such as engineers and designers. Imagine enterprise users, who are designing a product, being able to manipulate it with their hands, but also to control other aspects of their environment based on where their head and eyes are turned. The Magic Leap One offers support for multi-user environments and interactions, but it will have to provide some considerable advantages and conveniences to a design workflow to win over most engineers.

The Weight of Past Hype

Given that it offers functionality that looks comparable to other offerings in the AR space, such as Hololens, Google Glass Enterprise, and Vuzix AR glasses, it can be hard to see why Magic Leap One garners reactions that range from tepid to hostile.

To understand why, you have to understand the history of Magic Leap and the hyperbole that surrounds the company. Magic Leap began quietly enough when it was founded in 2010. But in 2015, it started attracting big buzz in the tech industry with a series of demo videos (below) outlining the capabilities of its hardware. The company promised that it would achieve what sounded like nothing short of science fiction, seamlessly blending realistic virtual objects with the real world. A lengthy 2016 profile in Wired talked up Magic Leap as a company with the potential to become a major player in tech on the same level as companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung.

The original concept video from Magic Leap was later revealed to be a fake and not shot through Magic Leap's technology. 

But it didn't take long before the cracks began to show. In 2016, The Information conducted an investigation into Magic Leap and found that its high-profile demo video was created by a special FX studio—not filmed through the company's own technology. Reports from Magic Leap employees revealed concerns that the company had oversold what it could deliver and how quickly. There were also reports that the company was working off a less-than-innovative sounding prototype—a device so big employees took to calling it “The Beast.”

As The Information reported:

“The first prototype was the size of a refrigerator, for instance, and was called the “Beast” by company employees, The Information has learned. It used a projector with a motorized lens that enabled images to have more depth and therefore look more realistic. The spectacles that Magic Leap plans to release will use a different kind of lens that aren’t likely to offer the same level of depth, for instance.”

Where's the Magic?

Magic Leap was promising investors that it could take everything The Beast did and cram it into a form factor the size of a pair of glasses. Skepticism around Magic Leap's capability grew to the point that many were calling it vaporware and questioning whether it would release a product at all.

In December 2017, Magic Leap announced that a Creator Edition of its headset will be available sometime in 2018 (no release date has been given as of this writing). It also opened up a creator portal for developers looking to make content for the Magic Leap One. Creators have been rolling out demos for Magic Leap, but they don't appear any more impressive than content offered on Hololens or through the products from Vuzix.

Most importantly, the public has yet to actually see any content actually running on Magic Leap hardware! Live stream viewers were hoping for a live demo and pressed for one. But De Iuliis and Noon, again, said that would have to come at a later date.

After years of speculation and hype, to have the Magic Leap One turn out to be just another addition to the increasingly crowded AR headset market—rather than a game changing innovation—is disappointing at the very least. The market is young, however. With the company still holding back on demos and full technical specs, there is still a chance to wow users. Optimists will hope that the killer app for Magic Leap is just around the corner and that all of the skeptics will owe the company a big apology by year's end. But with things as they stand now, the rest of us can easily be forgiven for being a bit more realistic.

You can watch the full Magic Leap live stream here.

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at Design News covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, and robotics.

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