Magic Leap’s first helmet was a bust. Now he’s trying again

Now the company is trying again, with plans to launch a new headset later this year. But this time it does some things very differently. For starters, Magic Leap is no longer aiming the product at developers and other early adopters who it hoped would find compelling uses for it (and then, perhaps, entice consumers to pick it up). Instead, it’s focusing on a narrow range of businesses who might find its AR offering more useful and also be less intimidated by the price, which has yet to be announced but will continue to run over $2,000. by helmet.

The company also hopes its timing will be better in 2022. While the market for AR headsets is still tiny, a related technology — virtual reality — is growing at a rapid pace thanks to the popularity of Meta’s Oculus Quest 2 headset. (While VR headsets can make the wearer feel like they’re in an entirely different world, AR headsets blend the real and the virtual.) The growing comfort with headsets in general and the interest in the idea of ​​a “metaverse” – it remains – the squishy concept of an interconnected virtual world – could help Magic Leap gain fans.

“Absolutely, we take it,” Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap, who took over after founder and CEO Rony Abovitz left the company in 2020, told CNN Business this week about the adoption. wider helmets. Despite VR taking up much of the conversation, Meta’s announcement in late 2021 that it would focus on building a metaverse “was a tailwind” for Magic Leap, she said. added.

Johnson, who was previously an executive at Microsoft, said Magic Leap pushes the headset toward three types of professional uses: viewing 3D objects; employee training (eg for medical procedures); and get remote assistance (like a factory worker who needs help fixing a piece of machinery).
The buzzy, secretive South Florida-based startup has raised more than $3 billion from investors since 2014 (including $500 million in October), with the promise of building a headset that can mix digital imagery with reality in a way that feels realistic and dynamic. Sales of its first headset were reportedly insufficient and the company laid off half of its workforce in the first months of the pandemic. Just over a month later, at the end of May 2020, Abovitz stepped down.
Magic Leap 2’s strategy is very similar to competitor Microsoft’s approach with its HoloLens headset, but is also a continuation of a strategy Magic Leap said it rolled out in 2019, when it offered its first headset. to businesses.

The Magic Leap 2 is a bit lighter, more powerful, and sleeker than its predecessor, the Magic Leap 1. It has almost twice the field of view (although it’s still much smaller than what humans can usually see with the naked eye), making it possible to see larger digital objects up close. It has a feature that essentially works like a dimmer for the real world, allowing the wearer to dim (or turn off) the ambient light beamed through the lenses of the headset in order to focus on digital objects. As with the Magic Leap 1, the new headset connects to a circular computer that must be attached to the user’s clothing or worn with a shoulder strap, and works with a handheld controller.

Magic Leap 2 does not yet have a release date; the company said it will arrive in the third quarter of the year, which means late summer or fall. The company also won’t provide pricing beyond what it will be more expensive than ML 1, which Magic Leap currently sells for $2,295 and up. (For comparison, the cheapest version of the HoloLens 2 costs $3,500.)
Why you can't (yet) have legs in VR

Magic Leap let CNN Business try out its new headset this week, via several short demos in San Francisco. With mid-morning sunlight filtering through several large windows, I caught a glimpse of an app to track and monitor wildfires. It showed a topographical view of an area where a wildfire was spreading, placed on a round table, while a two-dimensional map was affixed to an actual wall behind it. I could use the handheld controller to tap virtual icons – which could be seen from different vantage points around the table as I moved from left to right – to see the trajectories of emergency helicopters and their supply levels. , or video of the fire itself.

The digital images looked pretty solid, and I was able to move a virtual slider to darken the ambient light in the room, highlighting the images while the real objects and people around me faded away. All the while, the headset’s laptop fan whistled.

Despite the new focus on business customers, Johnson envisions Magic Leap delivering an AR headset for consumers, as Abovitz originally hoped – eventually. But Johnson, whose past work includes more than two decades at mobile chipmaker Qualcomm, thinks that, like the popularization of mobile phones, it “is going to take time”.