Augmented-reality start-up Magic Leap is finally selling something

|     Hayley Tsukayama     |

MAGIC Leap One, the highly anticipated augmented-reality headset that overlays digital objects on the physical world, is finally going on sale after nearly a decade of development.

But it may not be in a store near you. The headset is available for now in only six locations: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, the San Francisco Bay area and Miami – near the company’s headquarters. The headset will be delivered to buyers’ doorsteps, ferried by agents who will help with setup and provide training to use it.

Oh, and it will cost USD2,295.

That’s far more expensive than high-end virtual-reality headsets, which cost about USD500 or USD600. The closest product to the Magic Leap One on the market may be the Microsoft HoloLens, which runs about USD3,000 and is only available to developers. Most consumers interact with augmented reality – which, unlike virtual reality, blends with the real world – through their smartphone cameras, though there are PC-compatible AR headsets in the USD200-USD400 range.

It has been a long road for Magic Leap, which has raised at least USD2.3 billion in funding from notable names including Alibaba, Google and JPMorgan. Magic Leap has also drawn its fair amount of scorn, for those who believed the company’s product could never live up to the hype it created – a problem that only compounded the longer it took to get to market.

Magic Leap, the Florida-based augmented reality firm, announced a partnership with AT&T to distribute its upcoming glasses

Early reviews of the device indicate it hasn’t quite lived up to its early promise. One complaint is that the field of view, essentially the ‘screen’ size of the goggles, is small. Another is that, unlike other headsets, the Magic Leap One doesn’t have room to wear glasses under it, though it does have pop-in prescription lenses.

“The Magic Leap One feels like a solid first step, but it isn’t quite there yet,” wrote CNET’s Scott Stein.

At that price, and with those limitations, chances are that the people buying Magic Leap One will be developers or other people who want to make content or programmes for the headset. As with so many headsets, Magic Leap seems to be banking on the fact that there is time for this product to evolve. Chief executive Rony Abovitz, in an interview with Wired, indicated there is another headset already in development.

The question is what kind of market will be there for future devices. Overall, the appetite for virtual-reality headsets and augmented-reality headsets continues to grow, but more slowly than many anticipated. The cost of buying multiple headsets for group activities has been a barrier, analysts said. So, too, have issues of motion sickness, as well as the aesthetics of wearing goggles. (Remember all the jibes about Google Glass, which had a screen over one eye, and then double them for Magic Leap’s two bug-eyed lenses.)

But some companies have seen the appeal of these headsets for the workplace, to provide training. With an AR headset companies can, for example, skip complicated diagrams and highlight important parts of an actual engine or machine as the worker is touching it – combining the tactile and the technical. – Text and Photo by The Washington Post