Augmented reality company, Magic Leap, has received a further $502 million in investment which, when added to the $1.4 billion it has already raised, brings total valuation to a figure somewhere around $6 billion.
It’s a staggering valuation made yet more astounding when you consider that Magic Leap is yet to deliver a single product to the market. Nothing. All we’ve seen in five years is a couple of flowery, non-committal adverts, designed to tell us just how clever they are, and a couple of leaked photographs of prototype products which did little to quash the market rumours that Magic Leap is struggling to fulfil the promises of greatness made back in 2010.
As Magic Leap has spent years focusing on procrastination, much to the detriment of innovation, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook have stepped up and brought real, somewhat ironically tangible products into the world. Disappointingly, however, none of these has been life changing or industry defining either.
Pokemon Go came and went in the space of three months, and then everyone laughed at Zuckerberg’s attempts to showcase Facebook’s AR business meetings; the most creative that Apple could get, when it came to advertising their new AR capable phone, was to have a CGI dinosaur stomping through the streets. It seems that the T-Rex has become somewhat of a mascot for the concept of Augmented Reality.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if you could have computing spill outside the computer, almost like an art project?” say Magic Leap CEO, Rony Abovitz, “I think Magic Leap really did start out as an art project first, and then it turned out like, maybe there’s some science behind this.”
Statements like this, from a Magic Leap advert, live up to the reputation of hi-tech companies that are lampooned in comedy shows like Parks and Recreation, in which a Facebookesque company takes over the world with very little more than a slogan which reads, Wouldn’t it be tight if everyone was chill to each other? To avoid offering any specifics of your business is, I assume, an attempt to ramp up the hype machine, but it also works to agitate and frustrate, becoming so clearly egocentric that people soon lose interest in the concept of AR altogether.
Augmented Reality in the wider market
AR is held in such high regard yet has, so far, been offered in the form of passing fancies; novelty products. There are companies out there who are working on very effective, high-end but niche AR products, being built for very specific business uses like architecture and city planning. But for the wider market, waiting for the promised products that are going to change the way we live, as the smartphone or touchscreen did, nothing is coming anytime soon.
It seems the AR industry is happy to proffer great schemes and promises of future delivery while bringing ultra-limited products to market. Facebook, for example, believe that the screen is dead and that everything is going to head into the glasses lens. Not only does that mean we won’t need smartphones anymore, but it also means that we will be a population of spectacle wearers until the tech can shrink down to a contact lens. But it remains a pipedream, a far away, sci-fi plan. Magic Leap and Facebook and Apple and Google might tell us we’re going to be taken to a world of amazing AR innovation, but everything remains fairly unremarkable. And that raises the question of, why? Virtual Reality is proving its worth in journalism, filmmaking, gaming and beyond; Artificial Intelligence is radicalising the way we learn about society, and Robotics innovation is moving at the speed of light. AR, however, continues to struggle in demonstrating its worth.
Is it because the technology is more complicated? Is it because it remains low on the innovation priority list? Or are ‘they’ simply yet to find a genuinely useful application for AR in the wider, broader market?
Whatever the reason, it seems that the AR companies who promise to make the impossible a reality are biting off more than they can chew. I wonder how much more money Magic Leap will need? Let alone how much people are willing to give them. Especially when you consider that there’s a good chance that, when they finally deliver, it will have taken so long that the market will have moved on to something new and shiner and nobody is really going to give a shit.