Magic Leap or Apple
Who will give us the AR utopia of our dreams
I have to admit that I’ve always been jealous of Magic Leap. Apart from all the hype about the technology that they are working on, they also employ Neal Stephenson as a Chief Futurist — Its like the ultimate nerd dream of a 15 year old come true. Over the years (which seem awfully long for a start-up with no product), this jealousy has been replaced by skepticism — Magic Leap has raised $1.4 billion in VC money and is looking to raise more, but they have no product to show for, no release date announced. Meanwhile Apple has been making acquisitions and investments in AR, while also developing an ecosystem for AR glasses or some kind of AR technology. Apple seems closer to launching the first mass market AR tech.
Two Different Paths to Product Development
Magic leap has been in stealth mode ever since it began. They control the product from end to end — From owning the core tech, manufacturing and also developing content in-house. There has been no developer release and everybody who has tested the product also has signed a non disclosure agreement.
Apple on the other hand, rolled out a cool AR developer kit a couple of days back at WWDC, has been perfecting miniaturisation of computers with the Apple watch and launched air pods a year back, which would definitely play an important role in AR experiences.
In short Apple is taking constant feedback from market while Magic Leap is underground building something for which there is no proof there is a market.
Now I have not worked on something the size and complexity of Magic Leap, but one thing that I have observed time and again is that feedback loop once the product launches will result in a paradigm shift, unless you are Steve Jobs, aka the greatest businessman of the 21st century.
The online video editor I was working on did not have payments until a month back. Users could edit their videos quickly and download/publish it. Without payments, we had no idea who the serious users of the product were. We had the data about what people were doing with the product, how many videos people were taking home, but there was no realistic metric to point and say, this is what people want, this is what people will PAY for. Once payments were introduced, and people started paying for the videos they were taking home, we were able to make a better call on what it is that people want. A lot of the ideas we had have been validated by launching payments, and a lot of ideas have been dismantled as well. It is still not perfect, but a good feedback loop has been established because we introduced payments.
An AR winter?
Whatever Apple and Magic leap are working on will have significant consequences to the future of computing.
Apple knows that there is not much to innovate in laptops — it has reached the flatline of the S-curve of technology adoption. The mobile phone market has reached maturity and it is also heading to a flatline.
MagicLeap is the most hyped, and most valued start-up working on AR. If they fail, it can lead to panic among investors, who may then cold shoulder mass market AR devices for a while to come.
Augmented reality is the kind of thing that we all get into start-ups for, and I know it’s easy to be on the fence when I have no skin-in-the-game. I really hope that both Magic Leap and Apple come out with cool products that will be the platform for an AR future. But, at the moment I’m pretty sad that Magic Leap has nothing to show for apart from hype, allegations of mismanagement and $1.4 billion of VC money.