Magic Leap is What Happened to Google Glass
Virtual reality (VR) is the simulation of an environment that can be interacted with by the user which can offer sensory experiences that target all 5 senses. Augmented reality (AR) is when you mix virtual reality with well, reality. It’s a direct view of the physical world which is supplemented by computer-generated sensory input. Devices such as the Oculus Rift (acquired by Facebook) and the Microsoft Hololens (released this year) are examples of virtual and augmented reality devices that are entering the market. One startup which has been operating in stealth mode up until last year wants to turn the whole world of augmented reality on its head. With a video teaser released last month which had everyone talking, Magic Leap could be the one AR company that will rule them all.
Founded in 2011 by serial entrepreneur Rony Abovitz, Magic Leap has taken in nearly $600 million in funding with Google (GOOG) being the lead investor followed by other notable names such as Andreessen Horowitz, Qualcomm, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The most recent funding round of $542 million which closed in October 2014 gives Magic Leap a valuation of 2 unicorns or $2 billion. Unlike some of the hacks you’ll find running OTC companies, Mr. Abovitz has a track record of building successful companies. He was the founder of Mako Surgical Group, a company that builds FDA approved robots that perform surgeries. Mako was sold several years ago for $1.65 billion.
Update 04/26/19: Magic Leap has raised $280 million in fresh funding for research and development involving a computer-generated interactive experience. This brings the company’s total funding to $2.6 billion to date.
Magic Leap best describes what they are building in the following statement:
Using our Dynamic Digitized Lightfield Signal™, imagine being able to generate images indistinguishable from real objects and then being able to place those images seamlessly into the real world.
Magic Leap calls that a “Cinematic Reality”, a technology so powerful that Mr. Abovitz thinks most people believe it’s 50 years out when in fact it’s here now. He also believes that this device will eliminate need for physical screens such as laptops, smartphones or even smartwatches. The potential applications for this technology seem limitless as evidenced by the 97 patents Magic Leap filed for in a single week. One of these patents provides 180 pages of details for you to peruse which shed some light on what the device might look like and how it might be operated:
Magic Leap is using some of that last funding round to build out a 300,000 square foot pilot manufacturing facility in Florida to begin producing whatever device it is is they plan to launch.
Forbes published an article earlier this year on the topic of Google Glass titled “Why Google Glass Failed: A Marketing Lesson“. In this article, the author opined that Google Glass failed because there was no easy way to buy it. There was no clear explanation as to why the product was fabulous. There was no product launch or mainstream advertising campaign. These reasons may be why the product failed, but they could only have been intentional. Are we to think that Google, with some of the smartest people in the world, somehow messed up and forgot to launch or advertise Google Glass? That with almost $70 billion in cash on hand, Google decided not to spend any of it on launching one of their most hyped product offerings? This doesn’t seem likely. What does seem likely, is that that decided to pilot the concept with select users and learn from their feedback. This pilot helped gauge demand, showed how the public would react to such a device, and paved the way for a truly disruptive augmented reality offering in the future. With Google being the lead investor in Magic Leap, it’s not too far fetched to think they’ve shelved Google Glass and are letting Magic Leap run with the idea.
We would speculate that the Google Glass launch was an intended failure. Google found a company that was doing what they were trying to do with Google Glass but doing it better. Why not just make an investment in Magic Leap and leverage what you already learned through the Google Glass pilot to develop a truly disruptive augmented reality product? It seems to make the most sense when trying to figure out what happened to Google Glass.
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