Oculus Inventor: Magic Leap is a Tragic Heap
The title of this review was carefully chosen, not glibly. I want what is best for VR and all other technologies on the Reality–Virtuality Continuum, Magic Leap included. Unfortunately, their current offering is a tragedy in the classical sense, even more so when you consider how their massive funding and carefully crafted hype sucked all the air out of the room in the AR space. It is less of a functional developer kit and more of a flashy hype vehicle that almost nobody can actually use in a meaningful way, and many of their design decisions seem to be driven by that reality. It does not deliver on almost any of the promises that allowed them to monopolize funding in the AR investment community.
I will keep this part short. I hope Magic Leap does cool stuff in the future, but the current UI is basically an Android Wear watch menu that floats in front of you. The menus are made of flat panels that can only be interacted with through the previously discussed non-clickable trackpack. Eye tracking and rotation/position of the controller are ignored, as is headlook. You can toss Windows 8 style application windows all over the place, floating in space or even attached to walls! That is nifty, mostly useless, and also exactly what Microsoft started showing off about three years ago. It is some of the worst parts of phone UI slammed into some of the most gimmicky parts of VR UI, and I hope developers create better stuff in the near future.
Magic Leap needed to really blow people away to justify the last few years. The product they put out is reasonably solid, but is nowhere close to what they had hyped up, and has several flaws that prevent it from becoming a broadly useful tool for development of AR applications. That is not good for the XR industry. It is slightly better than Hololens in some ways, slightly worse in others, and generally a small step past what was state of the art three years ago – this is more Hololens 1.1 than Consumer AR 1.0. Consumer AR can’t happen without advancement, and it seems those advancements will be coming from other companies. There is, of course, a chance that Magic Leap is sandbagging us; maybe the real deal is just behind the next curtain! Past experience suggests otherwise…
And then there’s the reply to Palmer via Twitter from the CEO of Magic Leap that apparently compares Magic Leap and Oculus to Avatar the last Airbender: