After the release of The Information’s skeptical article on Magic Leap, the community, and tech world was sent into a frenzy. The story detailed the technical faults of their various prototypes and how much they would differ from the final product. Essentially reality has hit the fan. But before we start saying Magic Leap is doomed, let’s take a sobering analysis of the prototypes and the potential of their final product.
Prototype #1- The Beast (2013)
During Magic Leap’s A to B round of funding they demoed two prototypes to investors nicknamed the Beast. The first machine featured the highly acclaimed and ‘revolutionary’ Fiber Scanned Display (FSD). The second machine demoed the capabilities of a DLP with a variable focus element. This allowed High-resolution content to be placed on multiple focus planes giving it a surreal sense of presence in 3D space. This coined the ‘LightField display’. This attracted big investors to put big money into Magic Leap in the event that they would miniaturize the technology using the FSD.
The Fiber Scanned Display
The fiber scanned display was thought to be the secret sauce to Magic Leap creating an ultra lightweight product lightspeed ahead of the competition. But after continued technical complications, Magic Leap shelved the technology to be implemented in a future product. More insight on the technicalities of FSDs can be found here.
Prototype #2- The Wearable Display 3
The wearable demo three (WD3) is a helmet-like design that is tethered to a PC. The WD3 made the switch from a projector to micro OLED display panels. It kept some of the features of the beast as well as some new ones such as positional tracking. This is the prototype where a majority of the “through magic leap technology” videos were shot.
Product Equivalent- PEQ
The PEQ is said to be a significantly smaller than WD3. It’s described as a pair of wireframe glasses with electronics tightly strapped around in. The lenses (waveguides) are multi-stacked and the display type being projected is mostly likely LCOS. It is expected that the PEQ will only be capable of supporting 2 focus planes. From the Beast to the PEQ clearly, a lot of trade-offs have been made but it will ultimately boil down to whether the company can deliver on the promises they’ve made. And that’s where Magic Leap had to reduce the size of their promises.
Ironically, The Information’s skeptical article is kinda good for Magic Leap. They were able to cut down the hype train, and deflate the bubble that was building around them. A positive way of looking at it, they prevented another ‘No Mans Sky’ from happening by lessening the expectation instead of inflating them.
lessening the expectations instead of inflating them.
Overall, Magic Leap is most likely still on the path to building a great product, and they have time. As Peter Thiel states in his book, Zero to One, “It is better to make the last great development in a specific market that will allow a company to enjoy years of monopoly profits” (Thiel 58). For now, have some faith in Magic Leap as they gear up for an exciting year.
I would also like to give credit to Karl Guttag, a lot of the information in this article couldn’t have been found without his dedication. He has spent hours researching the technical realities of Magic Leap and he ultimately deserves credit where credit is due.