Magic Leap Headset Needs a Big Developer Ecosystem

As the augmented reality (AR) market heats up, Magic Leap remains something of a wild card. The secretive company has spent the past few years hinting at amazing AR technology in development; more recently, it has let a select few play with an early version of its headset.

Despite that hype (and impressive funding from Google and other deep-pocketed sources), Magic Leap faces an uphill battle against some increasingly robust competitors, including Apple and (irony alert) Google, which are pushing a future in which people access augmented reality via their smartphones.

Now comes a big test: Magic Leap is rolling out the Magic Leap One Creator Edition, which it claims is a “consumer-grade” version of its headset. It retails for $2,295, and availability is limited to “select areas” (you have to check their website to see if your town qualifies). As with Microsoft’s HoloLens, an AR headset competitor that’s also on sale (at least the developer version) at an eye-watering price, there’s no word from Magic Leap on when a cheaper v2.0 headset will roll out.

Magic Leap already unleashed an SDK (known as LuminSDK), which allows builds via Unity and Unreal Engine 4. With the Creator Edition on the marketplace, the company needs developers and tech pros to get onboard and create software that will make the hardware a must-have, at least among fans with a couple thousand bucks to burn.

Magic Leap’s chief content officer, Rio Caraeff, told Wired that “we don’t have, you know, 50 million developers, and we have to do everything possible to make it easy to build.” In order to accomplish that, the SDK has pre-built code snippets and 3-D models that developers can insert into their code. Whether that will actually compel tech pros to try out Magic Leap’s technology is another thing entirely.

Roughly 40 percent of Magic Leap’s early developer community is focused on building games, according to the Wired article, which seems logical: so far, AR and virtual reality (VR) development is largely centered on gaming. But if the headset’s technology is as groundbreaking as the company claims, it’s possible we’ll see a variety of non-gaming applications, from industrial to medical.

But is Magic Leap actually that revolutionary? As the headset enters the market, and tech publications begin to release their reviews, it’s clear that the technology still has some ways to go. Over at The Verge, for example, Adi Robertson described an experience with some flaws, including a relatively limited field of view and holograms that occasionally fragment.

There’s also the question of whether a headset is the best delivery method for augmented reality: will people want to spend thousands of dollars on one when they can have a serviceable AR experience on their phones? In a worst-case scenario, Magic Leap could potentially end up like the Oculus Rift: an expensive (and well-funded) platform for a small niche of hardcore users. In the end, it’ll come down to the developer ecosystem (and their collective creativity) to potentially take things more mainstream.

Related