You are here

Magic Leap's augmented reality gear meets actual reality, and stumbles

Washington

TECH'S "next big thing" is looking more like a "maybe in a few more years thing." Magic Leap, a Florida start-up, has raised US$2.3 billion (yes, billion) from investors on the promise it can mix computer-generated images into regular human sight.

Think Pokémon Go built into glasses. Cloaked in secrecy for seven years, it released dazzling demo videos and let a few sample its newfangled View Master under controlled conditions.

Now come the unvarnished reviews. The company's first product, the US$2,295 Magic Leap One, recently began shipping to developers.

sentifi.com

Market voices on:

The Washington Post bought a pair, and I've been using it to test the Magic Leap augmented-reality experience.

Here's my real reality experience: Right now, Magic Leap isn't even a very good parlour trick. The product lets you walk around a room, tethered only to a disc-shaped computer worn on your hip, and experience a few 3-D apps that map into the space around you. But it is not dramatically better than competing (and not terribly compelling) AR gear already out there, such as Microsoft's HoloLens.

Palmer Luckey, the ex-CEO of virtual reality pioneer Oculus and a rival, has been even more pointed. This week, he wrote, "Magic Leap is a tragic heap." (The company says he misunderstands its tech.)

Why should you care? You probably won't be buying a Magic Leap any time soon. But we're not going to be staring down at phone screens forever, ignoring family members and walking into traffic. Apple and other tech companies are eying AR as a phone replacement, too.

AR glasses have wider potential than virtual reality gear, which effectively blindfolds you. The Magic Leap goggles, called Lightware, are translucent. When you wear them, it looks like a virtual world is painted on top of the real one - a creature is running around your desk, a web browser window is hanging on your wall.

There is, no doubt, a lot to be worked out for a new kind of computing device. But I'm surprised Magic Leap isn't further along on the basics - or even just some experiences to make you go "whoa."

The Magic Leap One can't be dismissed as just a prototype. Not only is it for sale, the company has announced a partnership to, at some point, bring a product to AT&T stores for demonstrations. Magic Leap says this first version is for "creators" and programmers.

Most curious: The company blamed some of my challenges on an improper fit of its headgear. My fit had been set up by an agent Magic Leap sends to all deliver all purchases. I was left wondering how they'll ever sell the product to millions if hardware calibration is that delicate. WP