Comment Not content with promising the product he has been hyping for six years, this week the CEO of Magic Leap revealed that his yet-to-ship virtual-reality headset technology will be even better than the previous gibberish he spouted.
Rony Abovitz appeared on stage at a media conference alongside none other than NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to shovel yet more of his particular brand of exciting-sounding verbal diarrhea to eager attendees.
People have grown used to the concept of Magic Leap's goggles where lifelike images are shown in front of your eyes, thanks to the fake videos the billion-dollar company paid a Hollywood special effects outfit to produce.
And so Rony took things up a notch, promising even more exciting experiences that there is scant evidence his company is capable of producing. There will be, he excitedly guffed, live holograph streaming within just two to five years.
Just imagine watching a live basketball match happening right in your living room. You'll have to imagine because we're not sure Magic Leap has any idea how to do it. But give them enough money and they'll talk to you about it.
In fact, it is so far ahead, Rony rejected the term "augmented reality" to describe Magic Leap's headset in preference to his own concept of "spatial computing."
And he has lots of exciting words to wrap around that concept including a "component we call Lightwear" that "senses you."
"You get, like, emotional state, you can get, like, information, bio-markers, about a person. You sense the world around you because if you don’t have context, if you having something floating in space, it doesn't make sense," he noted.
He went on: "And then we spent a mass amount of effort and capital building a digital light field signal and all of that is to really look at… Your eye and brain evolved for millions of years into something that is many billions of years old… The physics of how light and the universe works with your biology. Our goal was like – that's set – let’s not screw that up. And to not screw that up required going down a very difficult path."
If that all reads like absolute weapons-grade piffle, it's because it probably is. What is persuasive in person and supplied to your ears rarely works on the page. The pace at which this exciting techno-babble is spoken also assists its believability. But there is an upper limit, even for Rony, on how often this can be trotted out without an actual real product shipping. He's not there yet:
"We're trying to understand what is going on there: what's the physics? What the neuro-technology? What's the neuro-anatomy happening? How do we gently slipstream into that and not disrupt things? We want to talk to your neuro-cortex in a biologically friendly way."
Which all sounds a long way from an actual product.
We were also treated to none other than legendary basketball player Shaquille O'Neal giving a glowing testimony about how fantastic the Magic Leap goggles really are. He tried them on (earlier, we didn't see it.) The b-ball hero loved them.
Fortunately, no retired celebrity has ever endorsed a product that they don't firmly believe in before, so we now know, thanks to Shaq, that despite years of missed deadlines that Magic Leap's technology is real.
How real? Real enough that German media giant Axel Springer put out a press release this week saying it has invested an unspecified amount of money in the company. You don't get any more real than investment money.
As to the product that Rony swears is coming, conference moderator Peter Kafka (no, seriously) gently prodded him noting that "everyone goes to [Magic Leap's HQ in] Florida, signs an NDA, and says: it's amazing but I can't talk about it." Kafka asks when it will finally arrive.
Back in December, having been forced to give some kind of launch date after two years of promising and not delivering, Rony finally gave "early 2018" as a date. This week, in early 2018, Rony revealed that date has already slipped back to "spring 2018." We'd be amazed if it didn’t keep slipping from there.
Rony also again refused to say how much it would cost, leading to a ludicrous game of Guess the Comparison. "It is a premium computer," Rony said about his product that still isn't for sale, "so I would think of [pricing] it that way."
He then waffled on about a whole range of forthcoming devices that simply don’t exist yet: the announced Magic Leap One is "prosumer-ish" or "hyper-pro" or "wide mass market."
Asked if mass market equated to, well, today's mass market price of $200-300, Rony said he thought of his product as a "higher-end mobile phone."
Keeping up the game, the moderator asked if his iPhone X – cost: $1,000 – was an example of a higher-end phone. Rony didn't disagree. And then went on to claim that his super device wasn't just AR goggles – it is so much more than that.
"The number of devices it's potentially replacing… if you actually add all that up – your phones, your televisions, your laptops, your tablets – that adds up to thousands or tens of thousands of dollars."
That's a stretch even for Rony. Literally no one is going to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a pair of goggles with a big round computer attached that generates the graphics and that you have to wear on your person.
In short, it was the same old game, all over again. Rony talking excitedly about the possibilities of augmented reality, painting new worlds, and implying that his startup is capable of making them happen.
Throw in a celebrity and a seemingly plausible authority figure – in this case, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver – and that's enough to buy another few months.
But as we have said before, multiple times, and will no doubt say again before Magic Leap is finally forced to put a product out into the market: this all amounts to absolutely nothing.
Literally none of the signs that exist when a company is about to launch a big product are there. Where are the product directors? Where are the manufacturing contracts? Where are the previews? Where is the community of third-party app and game makers?
Plus, as one knowledgeable engineer noted on his personal blog, using what tiny information is out there, the super technology that we are being asked to believe in looks like a lesser version of what is already being showcased by other companies.
At some point this year we will probably get some kind of Magic Leap product. And it will be far too expensive, far too large, far too underpowered, and run far too few games or applications.
Every time Rony appears on stage to give the same shtick, the inevitable train crash that is Magic Leap grows that much more painful to watch. ®