Technology 11 min read

Why Magic Leap is Set to Fail

Magic Leap is one of the most hyped and closely followed tech startups on the scene right now. With all of this excitement, can the company live up to the expectation?

Could Magic Leap One truly mix our reality? | Sergey Nivens | Shutterstock.com

Could Magic Leap One truly mix our reality? | Sergey Nivens | Shutterstock.com

Magic Leap is one of the most hyped and closely followed tech startups on the scene right now. With all of this excitement, can the company live up to the expectation?

Magic Leap, the Florida-based startup, recently announced that it had raised $461 million from the Saudi Arabian sovereign investment arm. Despite the fact that Magic Leap One “Creator Edition” has not yet been released, this funding doesn’t come as a surprise.

This investment follows a $502 million investment led by Temasek in October, the number of unanswered questions surrounding this mysterious mixed-reality technology notwithstanding.

This raises the question: why do these companies continue to invest despite arguments that Magic Leap is set to fail?

Magic Leap is a start-up which has promised to use it’s $542 million funding from Google to “change everything” and develop “a marker of the future”.

The recent years have seen Magic Leap become arguably the most hyped up tech product to date. Its founder Rory Abovitz has made sure little about the product is revealed.

When scarce details were released, they came in the form of excitement rather than information. Technical terms tangled up without explanation helped us to decode Abovitz’s vision.

Promises, Promises, Magic Leap Hype as big as this whale | Image courtesy of magicleap.com

Magic Leap promised to use a combination of augmented and virtual reality with a dynamic digital light field signal coordinated with the human eye and brain to produce 3D images that are indistinguishable from what we see in the real world. The potential of enabling our wildest imaginings was clearly very enticing.

In Abovitz’s legendary TEDx talk in 2012, which mystified us all, he promised there was a coherent message for us to decipher in between the appearance of a John Lennon (perhaps his glasses provided some inspiration?), monsters, and nanobots floating in a seascape.

However, he mysteriously canceled his second TED appearance, in 2015 for reasons unknown (Maybe the monsters were ill that day?).

This was followed by dazzling images of humpback whales appearing in a classroom and the milky way lighting up a living room in promotional videos on YouTube.

All of this hype sounds impressive, and at the time it was.

Perhaps this is why Magic Leap went on to capture the attention from investors such as Legendary Entertainment, who gave us films like Interstellar. They also attracted Weta Workshop, who we can thank for Avatar and The Lord of the Rings.

These investments, along with A-list VCs like Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins, and a collaboration with Sigur Ros added up to a start-up valued at an estimated $4.5 billion by Forbes in 2016.

Read More: Where VR Failed, Augmented Music and Magic Leap Might Prevail

Fast forward to 2018, when the Magic Leap glasses prototype has been revealed and are finally available to pre-order. Sorry to burst your balloon Magic Leap, but hot-air will only get you so far.

This product is destined to fail. Why? Because like Google Glass, Vive and Hololens ETC, it’s just not good enough to succeed.

Magic Leap is primed and ready to be the next Google Glass | Image courtesy of Wired.com

What Does Magic Leap Promise?

For anyone who missed the Magic Leap hype boat, here’s a quick overview of exactly what it promised to be and what it is.

Magic Leap’s device is made up of three parts.

A headset called ‘Lightwear’ which resemble goggles are tethered to a ‘lightpack’, a pocket-sized computer pod with a long cable. The third component, known as a ‘control’ is used to navigate the system.

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Magic Leap Devices; Lightpack, Lightwear, and Control | Image by Magicleap.com

Magic Leap was founded on the idea that computing and technology should serve people first and enhance our experience while respecting human physiology.

How? According to the Magic Leap website, it uses light-field photonics to generate digital light at different depths that blend seamlessly with natural light to produce lifelike digital objects that coexist in our environment.

Supposedly, this advanced technology allows our brains to naturally process digital objects in the same way as ‘real-world’ objects, making it comfortable to use for long periods of time.

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Magic Leap claims that it will revolutionize the way we learn, but where are these kids’ Magic Leap goggles? | Image by Magicleap.com

Why? This computing platform claims to offer a wide variety of applications. It can be used by web developers so that consumers can browse 3D objects while shopping online.

It claims that, before, games transported us to different worlds. Instead, Magic Leap intertwines entertainment with our already present reality.

It also promised to allow us to communicate with friends and colleagues online while digitally sharing the same physical space by means of avatars.

Finally, it claimed that it will be extremely helpful in enhancing the way we learn and will help to develop the way humans are educated.

These capabilities all sound great. But does Magic Leap actually deliver something that is any better or different than what came before?

Many other attempts to introduce augmented reality to everyday life have been interesting to watch develop but have largely become commercial flops.

When we take a closer look, it seems that there’s a huge difference between what Magic Leap is promising and what it’s actually offering.

Magic Leap’s Downfall: Unsuitable for Life and Lacking in Style

Since its original prototype was created in 2011, Magic Leap worked intensely to shrink its technology down as much as possible. However, the release of Magic Leap One shows that they should have tried harder.

Although creators describe the device to be lightweight and engineered to be comfortable enough for hours of exploration, the design is still too bulky.

In order to offer an augmented reality that Sci-Fi dreams are made of, the ‘lightwear’ goggles use four built-in microphones to sense the sound around the user and a real-time vision processor with six external cameras to track the user and their surroundings.

High-end speakers are also built into the temples of the device which provide spatial sound and react to the user’s movement and the movements and interactions with the Magic Leap world. No wonder the headgear is big and bulky. Another major obstacle that may prevent commercial success: lightwear looks like Riddick’s goggles.

We doubt that people are going to jump at the opportunity to walk around all day with a hip-mounted mini computer strapped to their hip. Even if you argue that a larger-than-life influencer could popularize this, Magic Leap has major work to do here.

Yes, it’s reasonably compact, but it will hardly sneak into everday life. Instead, it will be a cumbersome addition to the wardrobe.

Experience has revealed that the more accessible and user-friendly a product is, the more likely it will catch on, even if it is not a necessity. When marketing a product to the masses, Magic Leap isn’t offering a product that is going to seriously impact on the regular joe’s life.

Anything that is significantly more difficult than using a smartphone or tablet could be problematic. This could be a challenge for Magic Leap one.

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Using this anywhere outside of a trendy startup office would not only be pointless but also make you a laughing stock | Image by Magicleap.com

Limited Field of View and Excess Cables Take the Magic Out of the Leap 

Even from the scantily described clues that the obsessively secretive company have allowed us, the future of Magic Leap doesn’t look very promising.

Besides the headset being too ridiculous to wear in public, the extra cables and limited field of view take the magic out of the leap.

As we know, the processing done by Magic Leap is performed on a portable device known as the lightpack. The creator compares this to a MacBook Pro or an Alienware PC, only far more compact.

With CPU, GPU, drive, and WiFi, he describes the device as ‘a computer folded up into itself’. However, the result of this is that Magic Leap is unable to take advantage of advanced graphics, as seen in Vive or Oculus.

Although Microsoft’s HoloLens, uses different technology to create mixed reality, both fail miserably when it comes to the field of view.

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Microsoft’s HoloLens | Image by Microsoft.com/hololens

The realness of the experience Magic Leap is trying to convey is seriously depreciated because it does not offer a field of view that matches your eyes.

According to Rolling Stone, the viewing space Magic Leap offers is about the size of a VHS tape held in front of you with your arms half extended.

The view it offers is also floating in space. To its credit, Magic Leap lightwear does offer a viewing space that is larger than the HoloLens. Nevertheless, the limited field of view greatly imposes on the user’s ability to forget that what they see before them isn’t really there.

This, when added to lower-than-average graphics capability means the Magic of Magic Leap One leaves much to be desired.

A lot of ambiguity also surrounds the Magic Leap One when it comes to its ability to deliver multiple viewpoints. The few lucky ones who have gotten to test the technology, like Rolling Stone or Wired, say that demonstrations didn’t present the opportunity to see if the goggles could do this effectively.

A light field should allow users to look past the created image to the reality behind it thus meaning the closer image loses some focus.

However, when Bovitz has been asked directly about the googles ability to deliver multiple viewpoints, he has refused to comment. If it did have this capability, surely he would want potential consumers to know, right?

High-powered processing and graphics are wonderful in theory. However, if the battery life is poor, then the experience the device offers as a whole is going to be seriously downgraded.

As Abovitz has refrained from telling us what the battery life of the Magic Leap One is, chances are it isn’t earthshaking. He has admitted that battery optimization is still something the company is working on which is all very well for future models.

However, all signs point to the Magic Leap One being somewhat unimpressive in terms of length of use.

When a product isn’t living up to its hype or promises, price becomes an even more significant point of interest. The Magic Leap founder alluded to price in the infamous Rolling stone reveal, “Pre-order and pricing will come together. I would say we are more of a premium computing system. We are more of a premium artisanal computer.”

Taking into account that the Microsoft HoloLens costs $3,000 and Google Glass costs $1,500, Magic Leap isn’t going to be cheap.

Finally, the Magic Leap Website displays a disclaimer stating that the product you receive may be different to the prototype promised on the website. It doesn’t take a seasoned legal professional to understand that this is just clever defense, but it doesn’t dispell doubts either.

Will even the most artisanal loving tech addicts want to fork out thousands for something with a less-than-impressive guarantee?

What Could Change the Fate of Magic Leap?

So, if the Lightwear shows poorly, what would succeed in its place?

To be successful, Magic Leap would need to provide a larger field of view. Magic Leap and the existing app ecosystem (via merger or purchase) would also need to offer a wireless mode with desktop or laptop graphics card. That’s not all, but they could be three huge flaws in the Magic Leap’s design. 

While Magic Leap technology has a good chance of leading the mixed reality field, the Magic Leap goggles will be nothing more than a curiosity a la Google Glass.

However if Magic Leap One does fail, at least it will have made history and failed spectacularly.

“Our first system will be the first step towards a really cool dream. Of flying squirrels and sea monkeys and rainbow powered unicorns”, Abovitz said. By the looks of things, for now, a dream it will remain.

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Keep Dreaming, Rory Abovitz | Image by Magicleap.com

How will Magic Leap One succeed? Why would it fail?

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Alexander De Ridder

Alexander crafts magical tools for web marketing. He is a smart creative, a builder of amazing things. He loves to study “how” and “why” humans and AI make decisions.

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  1. TonyVT SkarredGhost March 25 at 1:29 pm GMT

    I don’t like Magic Leap, but I don’t agree with this article because it stems from a wrong assumption: that this is a device for consumers. It is not, the Magic Leap One is just a dev kit, so of course it is rough and expensive. I would be even surprised to see it actually released this year, it would be a great step forward for ML.
    The problem is that they’re selling it as if it should care consumers, while the average consumer can’t be interested in this nerdy thing.

  2. Mexor March 20 at 2:39 am GMT

    This is augmented reality, not virtual reality. Field of view is probably not nearly as important in augmented reality. What’s most important is that their display technology works. They seem to have enough money to survive if their first iteration of hardware is rough around the edges. But if their display technology really is something special then they can make it work as long as there is really market for AR.

    Maybe wait until you actually know what a device is like before announcing it will fail. I think media want to make money by hyping stories such as the Magic Leap. But they haven’t been given much information so they feel left out and decide that the best way they can monetize it is to decide it is “over-hyped” and therefore anti-hype it. Frankly, I don’t think it’s really been that hyped. The Oculus Rift was hyped. This Magic Leap thing you barely hear about unless you are looking for it, or you live in VR/AR circles. The fact that people have invested billions of dollars in it is not “hype”. Quit the sour graping.

    • Alexander De Ridder March 20 at 3:46 am GMT

      Hi Mexor. Thank you for your comment.

      I’ve developed augmented reality applications for Coca-Cola, NFL, Conoco-Phillips, DC Comics and more over the past 2 years alone. I also developed VR applications and games for companies like Ford, and own just about every device from Google Glass to Oculus to Daydream, to HTC Vive and so forth.

      Take a look at Gartner’s Hyper Cycle https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/top-trends-in-the-gartner-hype-cycle-for-emerging-technologies-2017/

      I am not against innovations in technology. Magic Leap may well further the state of the art in this department. But without more processing power, battery, and an app ecosystem, this device launch will be nothing more than another cool demo.

      More than likely the tech will survive, the device will be history. The company may succeed through partnerships and licensing, I just don’t see it overpower any of the contenders: Steam, Facebook, Google App store (Daydream), or the Apple App store (To Be announced). Microsoft has slim chances in the consumer market given that they can’t even get their windows app store off the ground, but may eventually succeed in enterprise due to the prevalence of Windows.

      • Mexor March 20 at 5:08 am GMT

        Thanks for the reply.

        Magic Leap’s business plan seems to be a platform based around their hardware, which is the current hot paradigm in the tech sector (that fact could help explain all the monetary interest in them). If there is nothing special about their hardware then you are right that Magic Leap overpowering the ecosystems of already-established players is almost assuredly a losing battle. In fact, that is so obvious that it’s just as assured that all the companies investing in Magic Leap are well aware of that fact. Therefore, it is only logical to assume that those making the investment have been convinced of some sort of moat around Magic Leap’s innovations, whatever they may be. Many of the elements of VR/AR are commodities or at least well-established by multiple competitors by now: SoCs, input devices, etc. What has convinced these investors is most likely Magic Leap’s display capabilities. As satisfying as it is to conclude that various rich people and people in charge of managing huge amounts of money have been duped into sinking what sums to the billions of dollars into something bound to fail, I think it’s a bit arrogant or oblivious to make such a determination when one hasn’t seen the actual technology oneself that these people who put their money up have seen. Of course, I don’t think it would be any wiser to conclude that the technology must be a killer because they’ve been able to raise so much money.

        As I pointed out, Magic Leap seems to have so much money that whatever they come out with can be a technology demonstration and a developer kit that acts as the “reveal” that all media outlets have been pining for for the last 4 years. It’s not Magic Leap’s big do-or-die moment.

        Regardless, the main point of my post is that I don’t think it’s fair to say that Magic Leap is rather hyped. That complaint was not meant to be levied solely at you. The claim that it is overhyped seems to be ubiquitous in the media’s coverage of Magic Leap at the moment. But, that it has attracted billions of dollars of investment is a fact, not a hype, unless one believes that people decided to give more money to Magic Leap just to increase its visibility. If anything, those involved with Magic Leap seem to be far more secretive than they are boisterous. It’s media organizations that want to hype the story and it seems that because Magic Leap isn’t playing the game along with them they are anti-hyping instead. And by anti-hyping I mean still trying to get clicks by creating a buzz, but saying negative things instead of expressing excitement.

  3. Rich lawrence March 19 at 8:42 am GMT

    IMHO. I like the design of the MLO goggles, they look kinda space agey. And the Riddick goggles are also cool.

  4. Aron March 19 at 7:03 am GMT

    I think you’re wrong. You’ll be surprised at what Magic Leap releases when its released. Tony Abovitz is a very conservative person by nature. He always releases supreme products late because he is a perfectionist. Look at what he did with his company Mako that made a surgical arm. Sure there will be problems because it’s such a big challenge. But I still believe it will revolutionize computing in the next 5 years or less.

    • Rama Krishna March 19 at 5:14 pm GMT

      Even same thing they said about Theranos. Why investors fund $1.4 billion with out testing their own blood sample and comparing their results??

      Having funding doesn’t mean the company will work.

      Note: Investing money on Magic Leap through equityZen so i am seriously worried.

      • Aron March 19 at 7:10 pm GMT

        Good point. However this is different. Google him and find out about his last company Mako, and you’ll see that he is not like Theranos. He has something genuine to offer.

  5. Ricardo March 19 at 6:47 am GMT

    Great article!! Thank you so much Alexander!

  6. Awesome ARKit March 18 at 3:19 pm GMT

    If it was such a failure then how was it able to gather so much funding? Investors might have seen the headset before funding right? And why would NBA partner with them if it was not so cool?
    Comparing magic leap with hololens is still fine, but how can you compare it with google glass when all that google glass offers is just a hands free mobile phone display.

    • BarryG August 30 at 6:23 am GMT

      You really have never raised or invested in startups have you? Herd behavior, believing hype because they want to believe, too much money chasing too few options — billion dollar fund is hard to vet and monitor 300 startups … no, pragmatically they only want 2-3, some super money generating companies, a half billion is chump change — the sometimes invest in stuff that they believe is stupid but if it works, it could disrupt their business, so they invest as insurance. Why do so many believe the million lies of Trump? They want to. Do you seriously think companies and funds with billions of dollars are any different?

    • Alexander De Ridder March 18 at 3:43 pm GMT

      Inventing flight doesn’t mean you founded Boeing.

      Inventing a nuclear reactor doesn’t mean your next watch can be nuke-powered.

      Investors believe in the technology, but to be successful as a consumer device company, I don’t think they figured it out.

      MR still doesnt solve my day to day problems. Limited processing power and battery life means limited one hour experiences. Limited FOV means limited immersion. In the end, it will be a cool and expensive gadget which will gather dust in record time. It will lack a successfull app economy and the mass adoption to make such an economy real.

      I see Magic Leap succeed in partnerships and licensing, but not in devices like this.

      • Awesome ARKit March 18 at 3:51 pm GMT

        The device isn’t even out yet and there is very little we know right now. Let’s see what happens.

  7. Richy A. March 18 at 2:13 pm GMT

    https://youtu.be/eywi0h_Y5_U

    • Alexander De Ridder March 18 at 2:27 pm GMT

      Hi Richy, Ballmer laughed because the iPhone was different in a category which already was a big success.

      Magic Leap launches a device in a category which has only seen failure in the consumer marketplace, and doesn’t change the reasons why they failed, all the inconvenience remains unresolved.

      People will be buying more Nintendo Switches this year, not Magic Leap.

      • Richy A. March 18 at 5:26 pm GMT

        There ist no consulting market yet. Im involved in this business … Most of the people are writing about stuff they not into, based on assumptions.

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