- Magic Leap is a secretive Florida-based startup that makes augmented-reality headsets.
- On Wednesday morning, it finally unveiled its first headset — a reveal six years and $1.9 billion in the making.
- Rolling Stone, which tried the headset, described it as something very similar to Microsoft’s HoloLens.
The next step after smartphones is almost certainly some form of augmented reality — at least, that’s what investors believe, to the point where they’ve pumped $1.9 billion into Magic Leap, a Florida-based startup that creates AR headsets.
For years, Magic Leap has raised astronomical rounds of funding from the likes of Google, Alibaba, Fidelity, and JPMorgan. And on Wednesday morning, after years of rumors and fundraising, Magic Leap unveiled its first product: Magic Leap One.
It includes a headset, a controller, and a corresponding computer (the circular thing on the left in the picture above). And the idea is simple: It’s a wearable computer.
Looking through Magic Leap One’s “Lightwear” glasses, you can manage your email, watch YouTube videos, or do whatever other stuff you’d do on a smartphone or computer. Instead of on a screen, it’s projected into your field of view.
You know the movie “Minority Report”? It’s kind of old at this point, but if you’ve seen it, you may remember Tom Cruise using a computer essentially projected into the world in front of him.
Magic Leap’s headset is similar, and it goes where you go. But there’s a huge difference between what Magic Leap is promising and what it’s offering.
This line in the first hands-on with the headset, from Rolling Stone’s Brian Crecente, says it all: “Magic Leap’s Lightwear doesn’t offer you a field of view that matches your eyes.”
Simply put, Magic Leap’s headset offers a viewing window into an “augmented” reality, rather than fully engulfing users in that reality.
If you look to your left without turning your head, you will see the side of the headset in your peripheral view, leading to users looking at the world through a window — which feels about as natural as it sounds.
I can attest that it’s exactly the way Microsoft’s similarly futuristic AR headset, HoloLens, functions. Crecente also makes the comparison.
“The viewing space is about the size of a VHS tape held in front of you with your arms half extended,” he wrote. “It’s much larger than the HoloLens, but it’s still there.”
Seeing only what’s directly in the middle of your vision while wearing the headset is the HoloLens’ biggest limitation, and it ends up feeling like a tease of something amazing.
When I last wore the HoloLens, it told me where to walk by painting arrows on the floor in front of my eyes.
The proof of concept there is obvious — imagine wearing a simple pair of glasses that offered Google Maps within your vision. Amazing!
But so is the limitation. Reality is augmented only insofar as you’re looking within a relatively limited space in front of you.
The Rolling Stone article quotes a Magic Leap senior director as saying a future generation of Magic Leap’s headsets “significantly expands the field of view.” When that future comes, augmented-reality products will do a much better job of delivering what they promise — but for now, they’re very impressive computer glasses.
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