There are reasons to be skeptical about Magic Leap's long-awaited AR headset

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

After what has felt like a never-ending stream of hype, $1.9 billion in funding and little else to show the public, the super-secretive augmented reality firm Magic Leap has finally shown off its long-awaited headgear. And it’s, well, interesting.

The Magic Leap One, Creator Edition will hit the market in 2018 and, according to Magic Leap at least, help revolutionize everything from education to games to your daily web browsing. That’s exactly what you’d expect from a company valued at north of $6 billion with investments from companies including Alibaba (BABA) and Google (GOOG, GOOGL).

Still, before you get too excited about this big reveal, there are a few things to keep in mind about Magic Leap One including the fact that we still have no release date, no price and no look at any actual content.

There are reasons to be skeptical about Magic Leap’s long-awaited VR headset .

Strapping it on

Augmented reality, as it currently exists to most consumers, is largely smartphone based. Apple made sure its new AR Kit augmented reality platform was front and center when it unveiled its new iPhones, and Google has its ARCore tool.

Most people who have used AR products have probably done so through Snapchat’s (SNAP) filters and Niantic’s “Pokémon Go.”

The Magic Leap is different. First off, there’s more to it than just a headset. Users will also have to clip a small, disk-shaped object to their hips that does all of the processing for the One.

Having consumers put on headsets is already a big ask. Making them also clip on a computer just creates more friction for users. Microsoft’s (MSFT) own augmented reality headset, Hololens, is fully self-contained and doesn’t require a separate processing unit.

In press images, however, the Magic Leap One headset does look far less intrusive than traditional VR headsets like those offered by Facebook’s (FB) Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s new Windows Mixed Reality line. Instead of encompassing your head, the Magic Leap One looks more like a pair of welder’s goggles with a series of sensors attached to it.

The Magic Leap One includes a headset, processing unit and motion controller.

Those sensors are what let the Magic Leap One track you where you are in the physical world.

According to Brian Crecente of Rolling Stone’s Glixel, who got to use the headset, Magic Leap will also solve the problem of wearing glasses while using VR and AR headgear by offering prescription lenses for the One.

But that’s also almost sure to drive up the as-yet-unannounced price of the product. Based on Crecente’s description of his experience with Magic Leap, it sounds a bit like a more graphically impressive version of Hololens.

Taking the leap

During his briefing, Crecente wasn’t allowed to discuss much of the experiences he took part in. He gave small snippets of information, but Magic Leap wouldn’t let him explain exactly what he was seeing while wearing the headset.

In one example, he described how getting closer to a robot allowed him to see more details rather than having it turn into a mess of pixels. In another he described looking at a person who looked fairly realistic, but wasn’t exactly lifelike.

The Magic Leap One uses “light field” technology to make the wearer see digital images laid over the real world.

There is, however, the issue of field of view. Crecente described it as about the size of a VHS tape held about half of an arm’s length. Microsoft’s Hololens also has a limited field of view, but it’s smaller than the One’s.

A healthy dose of skepticism

I’m personally skeptical of the One. Despite its lineup of heavy-hitting investors and its impressive pitch, I’m not sure it will be the revolutionary device that it’s being made out to be.

According to Gartner Research analyst Tuong Nguyen, augmented reality and virtual reality headsets likely won’t reach mass acceptance until they are as small as the glasses that many of us wear on a daily basis. Unfortunately, as Magic Leap’s photos show, that kind of technology is still a long way off.

Despite showing off its headset, Magic Leap still hasn’t given us information on its availability, price or the kind of content it will offer.

There is also the matter of content. Magic Leap hasn’t shown us anything we can really look forward to, which leaves us hanging as to what to expect when we do eventually see it. What’s more, will the content that we do eventually get to see be worth having to shell out money for the opportunity to wear a pair of high-tech goggles?

Virtual reality is stuck in a similar situation where there aren’t any real compelling pieces of content that you specifically need a VR headset for.

Nguyen says it could make sense for the One to work in the enterprise space where companies are already using similar technologies. But without any real idea as to how the One works, we’re just left speculating.

If the company can show off what its graphics and interface look like and what kinds of apps it actually uses, I might change my mind. But for now, I’m keeping my expectations in check — and you should too.

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