Magic Leap, Augmented Reality, Apple, and the Big Picture

I know my title insinuates I’m going to cover some ground in this article, and I hope to do that just. Yesterday, Magic Leap unveiled their long-awaited product called the Magic Leap One Creator Edition. Here is what it looks like in case you hadn’t seen it yet.

Now, right off the bat. We can all acknowledge those are some ugly glasses. Zero people on the planet want to wear those. But given the state of the technology, we have to get past how they look and onto what lessons can be learned from this product.

Magic Leap has positioned this product as a developer kit. Basically, they acknowledge it is a prototype and we can be confident they have a roadmap which leads to glasses that are much more consumer friendly in design and aesthetic. But the reality is we need to understand where we are with technology today and why strongly criticizing Magic Leap’s design because it is ugly is not helpful in the grand scheme of things.

Saying it is ugly and no one will wear it is obvious. When I was criticizing the criticizers on Twitter yesterday, people were responding that if it was truly a prototype (which it is) then they should never show it in public or release to the market. This is an excellent idea in concept but also extremely impractical.

Folks were also commenting to me that Apple would never release a product this ugly even if only for developers. This is absolutely true, however, Magic Leap is not Apple and most companies don’t have a number of luxuries Apple has—specifically developers.

Magic Leap wants to be a platform company, not a hardware company. The billions of dollars they raised was done so under the strategy that Magic Leap was building a platform and this hardware was a means to that end. Everyone knows you don’t build a platform with developers of content and this is the one area Apple has the advantage and why they can keep their prototypes private until they are ready for the mass market.

Magic Leap has to go out and try and get content developers today, and they have to have a hardware product to do that. This product exists so developers and creators can get their hands on it and start thinking about the possibilities of media they can create on this platform. This strategy is not that dissimilar to Microsoft’s HoloLens approach where the current design is only for developers to wrap their heads around the concept and experiment developing.

Apple doesn’t have this problem. They already have a large and loyal developer base who generally tends to write compelling software for Apple’s newest hardware. This gives Apple the luxury of being patient. I can guarantee you the glasses Apple is working on right now look no better than Magic Leap’s, but Apple knows they don’t have to release something not fully ready for the market yet because when they do their developer base will embrace it.

Magic Leap also needs to start making progress building consumer trust and a brand. If they can’t do that their product will fail, assuming they want to sell hardware to consumers not just license their technology and platform to other brands. Here again is where Apple does not have a problem. I love this question we asked in a VR/AR consumer study we did. We asked consumers what brand not in the market with an AR/VR head-mounted solution they would trust to deliver a quality solution. This is the results from all consumers including those who aren’t Apple customers.

As you can see, Apple is a trusted brand by the market not just by their customers. That trust shows in a question like this when we ask about a hypothetical product and see consumers show their trust in a brand. This again is more evidence why Apple has the luxury of being patient and we never get to see all the ugly and awkward prototypes they make because they are in a dramatically different position.

Everyone else, needs to take the strategy Magic Leap is doing, for good and bad, this is simply the process everyone else needs to take. So while it is easy to knock the design, that is obvoius, it is harder to think about the ways Magic Leap can succeed as a true platform and compete in this space.

So let’s look at it this way as a thought exercise. No doubt Apple will come into this space and do well with a product. Yet, not everyone owns Apple products and never will. So there is an opportunity for a second or third player/platform. So will it be Microsoft, Google/Android, or potentially Magic Leap? That is the better thought exercise to engage in not taking the intellectally lazy route of critisizing that design. That’s obvoius, let’s go beyond the obvious.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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