Electronics

Magic Leap’s First Demo Is Anything but Impressive

After four years of secrets, speculation, and vague product promises, Magic Leap has finally unveiled that its mixed reality headset will hit store shelves in an exclusive deal with ATT. The company has also unveiled some real live demos of its technology, finally giving us a look at what the platform is capable of.

Folks, “Magic Leap” may have been a misnomer. “Prosaic Plod” would be a better brand for this utterly unimpressive piece of kit. First, let’s establish some context. Here’s a concept video Magic Leap has previously shared for what it could accomplish:

And now, here’s a small collection of Twitter videos in which a single, badly filmed hologram of uncertain design slowly throws a single rock at someone. The rock can be dodged, and if it is, it will continue on its trajectory until breaking apart into a few small pieces against the wall.

If this was something a kid had hacked together in their spare time, it’d be amazing. If it was a Microsoft HoloLens project — and that’s what it resembles — it’d be at least kind of cool, albeit three years late. But it isn’t those things, either. This is a project that’s consumed $2.3B of funding across four years and been sold with a number of claims about what the hardware would be capable of. In retrospect, it should’ve been a warning when tweets like these started popping up:

Any time you have to launch a $2.3B product while tweeting about “The real magic is YOU,” it means your product isn’t very magical. Magic Leap still isn’t showing live demos. There are light limitations (expected, but still something to be dealt with), and there are limits on how close you can get to interactive objects. The Magic Leap hardware is driven by the Nvidia Tegra X2 SoC, and given that it fits into a pair of glasses, battery life isn’t going to be stellar — Denver CPU cores are fairly high in power consumption, and the X2 wasn’t used for smartphones in part because of its power requirements.

As of this writing, there is no indication — zero, zip, zilch, none — that Magic Leap will deliver a product that actually performs as its previous demos and product messaging have indicated. When you’ve got the secret to a magic leap in human-computer interfaces, you don’t roll it out with pre-taped demos and a blurry little rock monster with some vague collision detection. Magic Leap’s continued see-it-to-believe-it shtick has worn tired. The only “magic” in Magic Leap is how there’s always a magical explanation for why the technology can’t be demoed, shown, or exhibited in a form that would actually impress people.

It’s absolutely true there are technologies that are hard to show people if they aren’t present in person. It’s difficult to show the impact of a 3-D movie, VR , AR, or even a feature like FreeSync/G-Sync. But Magic Leap hasn’t even gotten to the point of calling the press and analysts together for staged live demos at a conference or similar unveil. At every step, even as the product moves towards launch, it’s been camouflaged and obfuscated.

Barring the all-time greatest product upset in history, we’d recommend saving your money.

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