Magic Leap One rollout provides lessons for VR industry

The mysterious mixed and augmented reality (AR) startup Magic Leap has entered its ‘trough of disillusionment’ phase, a condition that we’ve discussed ad nauseum on this blog and with which the virtual reality marketing industry is acutely familiar.

Between 2010 and today, the company has been heralded as potentially the next big thing in tech and attracted billions of dollars in venture funding from influential companies like Google, Alibaba, Warner Bros., and Qualcomm. The high-profile investors poured gasoline on a bonfire of hype sparked by carefully curated – and some might argue deceptive – “concept” videos and demos featuring whales leaping through gymnasium floors and uber-detailed models of the solar system hovering in dimly-lit offices. Through these teasers, Magic Leap promised a level of sophistication and maturity that other mixed reality (MR) and AR developers couldn’t match.

The hype reached fever pitch in December 2017 when Magic Leap announced the impending release of its inaugural headset, an unabashedly futuristic set of goggles named Magic Leap One. But as the release approached, doubts, rumors, and skepticism emerged: could the technology be as evolved as the company claimed? Why were there so few demos, and why were they always prerecorded?

During a developer chat on Twitch this July, the company delivered yet another prerecorded demo showing a small, cartoonish creature hurling animated boulders from a couch and a countertop. The video was so poorly received that Magic Leap co-founder Rony Abrovitz took to Twitter to defend it, writing: “Any video or 2D medium (photos) is completely inadequate to actually deliver the experience of a digital lightfield on ML1 [Magic Leap One].”

And yet, the company relied on 2D videos – and investor announcements – to build hype around its product, a contradiction that hasn’t been lost on the tech community.

“The tech world can put up with quite a bit of hype and secrecy if there’s a good reason to believe there’s fire somewhere underneath the layers of smoke,” wrote Mark Sullivan for Fast Company. “Much of the belief that Magic Leap is for real comes from the fact that Google invested…. But that credibility by association only goes so far for so long.”

Magic Leap One: Creators Edition can now be purchased by creators in the United States. It’s expensive (starting at $2,295 USD) and, based on early reviews, isn’t the gamechanger some expected. The field of view is limited, and the quality of the images is dependent on the light in the surrounding environment.

But the headset isn’t a bust, either: it reportedly delivers an impressive user experience that hints at the technology’s potential. CNBC’s Todd Haselton writes that it’s “unlike any computer I’ve used before,” but adds that “we’re years away from the Magic Leap that’s ready for the rest of us.”

That phrasing will sound familiar to anyone working in the VR, AR, or virtual reality marketing industries. For years, enthusiasts have insisted that VR will change the world. It hasn’t – yet – and the prediction may have damaged the industry’s mainstream credibility. If Magic Leap’s marketing approach had been more measured and cautious, its latest demo and new headset likely would have received less criticism.

Virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality are making their ways into the mainstream consumer technology market. The pace of adoption is slow but steady. Overhyping the technology, as Magic Leap discovered, will only lead to inflated expectations and, inevitably, customer disappointment and media criticism. For Magic Leap and virtual reality marketing agencies, managing expectations and controlling the narrative is critical to the healthy ascent of immersive technologies.


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