Changing Expectations: What do we expect from Magic Leap now?

We were always hoping Magic Leap were keeping the cards close to their chest in terms of what technology they have developed.  It make sense. When the only people you are marketing to are investors and talent to hire then you want to make it seem like you have something that no one else does.  You want to make it feel like they could be part of something amazing. But that time has come to an end. They are no longer an R&D company. They are a product company or hope to be. They are no longer talking to investors and talent exclusively. They are talking to us. The consumer.

We were always hoping Magic Leap were keeping the cards close to their chest in terms of what technology they have developed.  It make sense. When the only people you are marketing to are investors and talent to hire then you want to make it seem like you have something that no one else does.  You want to make it feel like they could be part of something amazing. But that time has come to an end. They are no longer an R&D company. They are a product company or hope to be. They are no longer talking to investors and talent exclusively. They are talking to us. The consumer.

Consumers are more fickle.  They don’t like being lied to or having the perception of being lied to. They don’t like arrogance and hubris (unless you are Apple) and they don’t like engineering for engineering sake (unless you are Google). They like products. And they like products you can buy. 

 Consumers don't care and aren't excited by images like this.  We are past the point where fancy technology will sway us.
Consumers don’t care and aren’t excited by images like this.  We are past the point where fancy technology will sway us.

So, let’s look at what we expect to be able to buy given what we know. It has become clear that whatever secret sauce they have is far less exciting than was guessed at. That does not mean they don’t have something up their sleeve it just means it might not be as much of a leap forward as speculated. 

No big jumps in resolution

This was predicated on a novel display technology, the fiber scanning display, that does not appear to be ready.  A more traditional 1080p display is likely what we will get. The quote from reporters “There are no pixels” will not be true for the first product. 

No hugely increased field of view

Without the high resolution, Magic Leap will have a hard time increasing field of view by a huge margin.  They might have something interesting with regards to optics but the further you spread out the pixels the worse the image will look. Expecting something better than hololens but far worse than the Oculus or Vive seems reasonable.

Low fidelity variable optical focus

This is core to Magic Leaps philosophy. They need something here.  But there has been doubt cast on how well this will work.  Some speculate there will only be two planes of focus.  Others think it will all be done via eye tracking and software. This area is likely the most ripe for a surprise.  They might have something interesting.  The “photonic chip” is the only part of their product they have shown publicly so they are clearly proud of it. We should set our expectations low though as this is a hard problem particularly as the display technology they hoped to develop fell through.  

Inside out tracking on par or a bit better than tango

If there is one thing HoloLens should be proud of, it is inside out tracking. It does a great job at this. It is the best there is. We can hope magic leap is able to build something similar to this but likely they will fall sightly short.  This isn’t that damning though as you don’t need perfect tracking to make a useful product and it is something that can be improved as HoloLens has proved. I suspect we might get something similar to what google has achieved with project tango.  That is to say, we don’t get perfect tracking but it is passable. Objects appear relatively stationary with only some jitter.

With all of these downsides, you might question if Magic Leap has anything interesting to offer beyond what Microsoft and some others have built in this space. While they seem to be building something very similar to HoloLens I think there is one place where we will genuinely feel that they have built something far more interesting than the competition. 

Small form factor

We still don’t know what the form factor will be but all indications are that they are striving for something small, something glasses like. While no doubt they will be bulky compared to a regular pair of glasses they will likely look far more reasonable to wear when compared to the helmet like devices we typically see today. If Magic Leap is able to make a carbon copy of HoloLens but with a decent form factor and price then they will have achieved quite a feat.

 The ODG R-7 Smartglasses. These are something someone could easily wear outside without getting too many odd looks. 
The ODG R-7 Smartglasses. These are something someone could easily wear outside without getting too many odd looks. 

ODG was able to cram all the optics, battery, processing and a cameras need to build a display in to a pair of glasses.  It is missing inside out tracking which really limits their potential but the form factor they were able to achieve is promising.  If Magic Leap moves the battery and processing to the pocket unit then then they can use that conserved space to fit the cameras and technology needed for inside out tracking and potentially eye tracking.  

Should we still be excited? Should we still have faith?

If you were excited about cutting edge graphics that look just like real life then I’m sorry to say that isn’t going to happen.  If you thought that Magic Leap would replace all screens then you might have to wait a few iterations of the technology. As Rony Abovitz has said, the first product will be like the iPod to Apples iPhone.  It won’t do everything. It will be a bit bulky.  It might be a bit awkward to use.  But certain things it will be good at.  Certain core activities we do everyday on our smartphones will be better using these glasses.  Maps and Navigation are the first thing that comes to mind.  “Second Screening” when watching sports or television.  AR games that don’t require huge amount of horsepower (pokemon go style) will likely be a blast.  Table top games will be taken to a whole new level.  At work these could be used to have virtual white boards when people work from home and want to have meetings.  They could be used as a sort of second monitor that removes the bounds of the display.  

These are just examples off the top of my head.  None of them need high resolution. None of them need perfect tracking. None of them need high fidelity focal planes.  But all of them require us to feel comfortable wearing and using the product. We will never feel that way if we have to wear a giant helmet like device.  Form factor and a minimum level of tracking, graphics and interface are the most important things for Magic Leap to nail. I still have faith they can do that.

 

 

 

Magic Leap just got the best PR it could hope for

Magic Leap needed some negative press to temper these expectations and it needed it as far ahead of product launch as it could get. That pent up excitement, and resentment, needed to come out before the realities of the product crush the perfect image in our heads. 

Public sentiment is hard to grasp but somehow we can all feel it. Whether it be a company, artist or even about politics we get a sense of what the world or at least certain groups think about it. Very quickly a convergence of opinion happens and often that turns into what people believe to be true regardless of what the real truth is. This “truth” then becomes sticky. People cling to it. Sometimes they cling to it even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence. 

For companies building a consumer product, being able to control this public sentiment, the zeitgeist, is vital. Yet very few are able to do it well or consistently. Magic Leap is amongst those that are struggling in this effort. You may think I am talking about the latest articles that have just come out but I am not. As I will argue, these articles are actually good for Magic Leap. I am referring to the uncontrolled expectations caused by the vacuum of information Magic Leap created. They created a mythical image of a product that was everything and nothing all at once. They created an imaginary device for people to project their wildest dreams onto.  No such device could truly exist. Those expectations could never be met. 

Magic Leap needed some negative press to temper these expectations and it needed it as far ahead of product launch as it could get. That pent up excitement, and resentment, needed to come out before the realities of the product crush the perfect image in our heads. 

Reed Albergotti’s article on the information confirmed much of what was suspected by Karl Guttag in his blog. Through first hand interviews and demos, Albergotti was able to show that some of the technology Magic Leap hoped to use was not yet ready to go in a consumer product. This means that some of the technical advantages that many assumed Magic Leap to have will not be seen in the first product. 

If this revelation was kept until launch day, the backlash would be monumental. There is a good chance it would sink the company regardless of how good the product is. But letting off some of the steam now, the product expectations will be lower. There will be more room for Magic Leap to make mistakes and more room for the things they get right to be brought to the forefront instead of being relegated as second fiddle to an imaginary perfect product.

So even if Magic Leap didn’t know it, even if they are upset about it, Albergotti’s article is exactly what Magic Leap needed if they have any hopes of succeeding in their first product. The hype train needed to be stopped. 

 The hype train needs to stop.  Only way to do that is to disappoint.  Better now, than later.
The hype train needs to stop.  Only way to do that is to disappoint.  Better now, than later.

Yet there is a fear that this negative press will create a public perception that will never go away. The stickiness of this new “truth”. I would argue that memory isn’t that long and products speak for themselves. By the time the product launches, expectations will be low and the negativity seen today will be a shadow of what it was. Most likely, people will be somewhat dismissive of the product but curious none the less. If the product is any good then they might be pleasantly surprised. If the product simply isn’t any good… Well then, it won’t matter either way. 

The PEQ

While petty ‘I told you so’s‘  and premature grave dancing continues on many sites, there is much to be hopeful for from the article on The Information.

This is the first time we have heard of the ‘Product Equivalent’ or PEQ.  This is a device manufactured at Magic Leaps factory that is close to the product they actually want to ship. While Albergotti did not get to touch or use the PEQ he did get to see it.  From his description, it proves that the most fundamental feature of Magic Leap is still a priority.  

Form factor

This is and has always been the most important aspect of Magic Leap. If they build a clone of hololens but it looks like a reasonable, if bulky, sized pair of glasses they will have built a compelling product. If they add some level of focal queues into that product, then it will still have a wow factor beyond hololens and way beyond what a typical consumer knows or expects. 

 From the information article:
From the information article: ” It looked as if somebody fastened electronics to every inch of a pair of wire-framed glasses”. Start with the wire frame and imagine some circuit boards.  Hopefully, the bulk added from that will be small enough that they still look reasonable.

The progress made on this sounds promising. They are really building it. We still don’t know what it will be capable of but we do know progress is being made. If nothing else, this negative press solidifies the transition Magic Leap has made from an R&D company to a Product company. And that product is coming. 

One last point 

Reading Albergotti’s article and you get a sense of both the issues Magic Leap is facing as well as the acknowledgement that they are working in a challenging space. You get the feeling that, yes, they aren’t what the hype implied but they are still interesting and worthy of our time. An impression to stay tuned because they still might make something great.   

The Verge on the other hand. 

After doing no research or reporting themselves, after being continually dismissive of the company in the past, they wrote a petty ‘I told you so’ article. It was oddly childish and doesn’t reflect what Albergotti wrote particularly accurately. 

I don’t get why we live to shoot down people who try something new and ambitious. Why we get this urge to say ‘No.  Stop. You can’t be good.’ Why we jump on them as soon as we see a chink in their armour and are proud of ourselves for it. Perhaps it is a form of humanities worst emotion, jealousy. Perhaps we feel they are belittling us because we aren’t trying hard enough so we fight against it. I sometimes feel this way and I hate that I do. 

We should be praising companies and people that try. Especially new companies that want to break the Google/Apple/Microsoft mould we are currently trapped in. We should celebrate their success and encourage them when they struggle. We should acknowledge that ambitious things are hard and not expect too much of them (something I am certainly guilty of). I enjoy much of what the verge writes but sometimes their hubris and their snarkyness gets the best of them. I hope they report with a more open mind in the future.