Now that the Metaverse is finally getting real, Magic Leap no longer plays games.
When the mysterious augmented reality company was founded in 2010, the idea was to transform the mainstream market with a goggle headset that would allow users to play with robotic digital gremlins and a virtual solar system. Over the course of a decade, the Florida-based company raised $2.6 billion in funding and opened an engineering office in Seattle run by science fiction writer Neal Stephenson.
That was then. It’s now: The Seattle office was closed amid controversy in 2020, and Magic Leap is now targeting the enterprise market for augmented reality, or AR, rather than the consumer market.
At this week’s GeekWire Summit, Magic Leap CTO Julie Larson-Green acknowledged that times have changed.
“There was a lot of money being spent on the consumer AR market,” she said Thursday. “It was really early, and a lot of money was spent on R&D, and it’s a completely different business now.”
Just last week, the company released its second-generation AR device, with three models priced from $3,299 to $4,999.
“It’s not a consumer device,” Larson-Green said. “You could make games, but you probably don’t want or need the full capabilities of this device to make a lot of games, especially VR-like games.”
Instead, the headset and its associated sensors and smarts are intended for use by businesses that wish to guide their employees through work procedures, or by professionals who wish to perform a complicated operation virtually before doing so for true. Or maybe even while they do it for real.
“Imagine being a surgeon and [putting] a catheter through a heart or certain vessels,” Larson-Green said. “Instead of looking at it on a screen, you can have it on the patient in 3D, doing things in 3D while still being able to see the patient perfectly on all your monitors.”
Another application is being tested at Lowe’s DIY stores in cooperation with Nvidia. “People stocking the shelves can wear the Magic Leap device, get a digital overlay of where things go in the store…but can also use it to figure out what’s in that box look up, we recognize the box, read the barcode and tell you what’s in the box,” Larson-Green said.
With software and sensor upgrades, the lightweight Magic Leap 2 headset has been strengthened for enterprise tasks. “I think Magic Leap 2 is the first one that’s really really usable in the enterprise for all-day work,” Larson-Green said. “It’s comfortable for eight hours. That’s a field of view of 70 degrees, which is twice the field of view of Magic Leap.
She said Magic Leap 2 is also configured with a vertical orientation which makes it easier to navigate the AR environment. “You don’t look through a viewer,” she explained. “It’s really the full immersive experience. And then, of course, you’re anchored in peripheral vision when you’re on the ground, so it doesn’t have the motion sickness issues or the challenges that some devices have.
The pivot to the enterprise market reduces competitive pressure from lower-cost AR/VR systems that target the consumer market, such as the Meta Quest 2. But the pivot also puts Magic Leap in more direct competition with Microsoft and its HoloLens system. , which has already been adopted by teams from Boeing, Airbus, NASA and the US Army.
So is Magic Leap planning to go to war with Microsoft over augmented reality in the workplace? Magic Leap says its lightweight glasses are better suited for professional applications than the bulkier HoloLens headset — which was part of Larson-Green’s argument during his GeekWire Summit appearance.
But the rivalry isn’t just about us versus them, in part because Larson-Green spent 25 years as a director and executive at Microsoft. (For what it’s worth, Magic Leap CEO Peggy Johnson is also a Microsoft veteran.)
Asked about the Microsoft vs. Magic Leap angle, Larson-Green invoked the wisdom of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
“If you use Satya’s thinking, it’s like a growth mindset of embracing competition or coopetition with these guys. Some of the product teams have been part of our EAP [Early Access Program] very early on, trying to develop the things that they are developing for HoloLens on Magic Leap devices,” she said.
“We’re working on ways to interact — you know, to integrate with Teams and other things. So we’re talking with people there all the time,” Larson-Green said. “I think your competition is good, especially in a new space where we are all trying to invent and find product markets, we can learn from each other… I have nothing but love for these guys.
And now that the coronavirus pandemic is easing, what about the relaunch of the Seattle engineering office? Larson-Green, who lives just across Lake Washington in Bellevue, said that’s under consideration.
“I want to be where the talent is – and there’s obviously a lot of talent, both software and hardware, in the Seattle area. We have several people who work at Magic Leap in the Seattle area. I would like to bring the office back. I talked with Peggy and other people about how big it would take to make financial sense for us,” she said.
“So you’re saying it’s a possibility?” GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop asked in his role as moderator.
“That’s a possibility,” Larson-Green replied. “I hope.”
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