Magic Leap’s CEO on the future of consumer AR
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Thursday, we’re exploring the impact of Magic Leap’s new headset on consumer AR hardware, and we’re talking to LimeWire’s former CTO about the brand’s rebirth as an NFT platform. Plus: animated democracy.
What Magic Leap 2 means for consumer AR
Magic Leap lifted the veil on its new AR headset this week, giving reporters in San Francisco a demo of the device while also sharing key technical details. It will become publicly available at the end of September.
Magic Leap 2 is an enterprise device with a premium price tag (north of $2,400). It includes all the bells and whistles you’d need to deploy AR in health care or manufacturing, like external battery packs for all-day use, mobile device management and enterprise security, to name a few.
- That’s very different from its predecessor, which was at least initially positioned as a developer device to spur adoption across entertainment and gaming.
- Magic Leap’s pivot to the enterprise is also apparent in its leadership. This week’s press tour included appearances from its CEO Peggy Johnson, a former biz dev exec at Microsoft, as well as newly appointed Magic Leap CTO Julie Larson-Green, another Microsoft alum.
- Johnson previously told Protocol that the enterprise AR market represents a $36 billion opportunity by 2024.
Magic Leap has given up on consumer AR for the time being, but Johnson didn’t completely rule out a return to that market.
- “The door is open,” Johnson said. “But right now, our focus is bringing up the best enterprise AR device.”
- There may be some overlap between those two spheres at some point, perhaps in the area of location-based AR.
- “The first consumer scenarios you'll see will be B2B2C scenarios, where someone comes and builds an experience with Magic Leap that they offer to consumers,” Larson-Green said. “But it's still us focused on helping them build their business.”
One reason for Magic Leap’s pivot: Consumer AR is hard. Building devices that are comfortable, affordable and useful to a general consumer audience still requires breakthroughs in display and battery tech, among other things.
- “Today, consumer AR is a ways off,” Johnson said. “I don't think there's any product that's imminent.”
- That hasn’t stopped others from working on AR glasses, though. Meta and Snap have publicly announced plans to launch a consumer AR device, and a number of other companies including Apple, Google and Samsung are also working on consumer-grade hardware.
The industry has been split on the role enterprise AR can play on that journey. Incoming Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth for instance has argued that enterprise AR is too different from consumer AR to make it worthwhile for Meta to invest in.
- “You have to believe the thing that you’re learning is valid,” Bosworth told me in 2019. “If what I want to test is how people are using augmented reality as they go about their lives, then the test of HoloLens isn’t a great one for me.”
Magic Leap executives think that the opposite is true. Johnson and Larson-Green argue that there are still a lot of lessons to be learned from making a device work in an enterprise setting.
- “We've done hours and hours and hours of focus testing with people,” Johnson said. “Different-sized heads, different hairstyles. We tried to be as inclusive as possible for the population that will wear this. All of that work has to be done for a consumer device as well.”
- “We believe that it's easier to explore at the high end,” Larson-Green said. “And then costs go down, [tech gets] smaller, lighter. It’s much harder to build up to that experience.”
- Larson-Green likened this to the PC market, in which enterprise technology helped lay the groundwork for consumer hardware. “Usually, you focus on what’s possible, and then make what’s possible smaller, lighter, cheaper, rather than going in the other direction,” she said.
Enterprise AR also has more clearly defined use cases, which helps manage expectations. “If you're using it for work and you're finding a lot of utility, you're willing to put up with more limitations,” Larson-Green said.
Early mobile phones were too clunky for consumers but a godsend for business mobility, Johnson said. As the technology advanced and devices became smaller, consumers warmed up to them. “I think we’re on that same trajectory with AR,” she said.
— Janko Roettgers
LimeWire’s founding CTO on the company’s return
LimeWire is back! However, everyone’s favorite file-sharing app from bygone days won’t be for music downloads anymore. Instead, the long-dormant brand is being reborn as an NFT marketplace, leading to Twitter jokes that it was replacing free MP3s with $20,000 JPEGs.
I wanted to know what former insiders thought about this pivot, so I asked LimeWire’s founding CTO and longtime COO Greg Bildson for his take. Bildson praised efforts to give artists new ways to make a living, and went on to say that “bitcoin and cryptocurrencies have shown a powerful use case for P2P technology. It's great to see that live on and hopefully develop further.”
However, Bildson wasn’t all cheers. “One thing I learned intimately at LimeWire was that there needs to be a compelling use case for decentralization,” he told me. “You need to be able to answer why this can't just all be a centralized server. There are costs and complexity in scaling decentralized solutions.”
“Utopian ideas of Web3 and expansive NFTs beyond the token basics presume a level of functionality that seems hard to achieve,” he cautioned. “Legal constraints on prior ICOs becoming securities offerings also may cap NFTs similarly.”
In other words: The new LimeWire will have its work cut out for it if it is looking to be anywhere as near as popular as it was in the past.
A MESSAGE FROM INTEL
In a few years, we may be largely living “on the edge.” As the amount of data grows exponentially, there is a greater need for edge computing solutions to aid in real-time decision-making.
In other news
Sony and Nintendo respond to Russia. Sony halted sales of PlayStation hardware and software as the war in Ukraine continues. Nintendo also delayed the release of a remake of tank combat game Advanced Wars.
Activision Blizzard investors under investigation. Three investors, including media mogul Barry Diller, are central to a securities probe for potential insider trading, after the trio purchased discounted shares of the game-maker days before Microsoft’s acquisition announcement.
The resilience of video game retail. A handful of story-driven, single-player games like Far Cry 6, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and Guardians of the Galaxy sold better through retail channels than digital storefronts, according to U.K. sales data.
Apple signs up MLB for Friday Night Baseball. Apple TV+ subscribers will be able to stream two games every week — provided that baseball is actually happening anytime soon.
Amazon streamed the Country Music Awards on Prime Video earlier this week, leading Vulture to ask: Is the service getting ready for more live programming, perhaps even awards shows?
LG joins Alliance for Open Media. The TV-maker’s move is adding momentum to an industry-wide push for the open AV1 video codec.
TikTok gets into the music distribution game. Artists can now upload and monetize their own tracks.
Amazon is doing live audio now. The company’s Amp app, which is invite-only for now, delivers a decidedly music-focused take on Clubhouse. Or maybe it’s more like Live365?
Democracy in 3D
Remember when the news of the day wasn't quite as bleak? If you need something to cheer you up, I suggest checking out this Twitter thread about election graphics in South Korea. Turns out all we needed to make democracy exciting again were game engines.
A MESSAGE FROM INTEL
As a form of distributed computing, edge computing enables processing to happen where data is being generated. The convergence of 5G networks with edge computing means data is not only traveling faster, but can be quickly translated via media, inferencing and analytics into insights and action, enabling new, ultra-low latency applications to come to life.
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to email@example.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.