An open letter to Magic Leap and the future of augmented reality


Imagine if the line between the virtual and the real simply didn’t exist. Your classroom could become the cosmos. The past could be as vivid as the present. And this is just the beginning. Welcome to a new world.

These are Tim Cook’s words about augmented reality. It was a bold claim coming from a company that didn’t really have that much skin in the AR game (at the time). They’ve since created AR Kit, a robust platform for creating mobile AR experiences.

Snapchat’s Lens Studio is a really fascinating tool that allows anyone to create AR lenses and same goes for the Facebook AR Suite. But the simple fact is that AR is not meant to be experienced through a phone screen. Honestly, who wants to change the world by looking through their phone’s camera lens? It’s far too limiting.

This is why Apple won’t be the company to take the cake first (although, I still think Tim Cook’s statement sums up the possibilities of augmented reality). Most likely, Magic Leap will be the ones to really figure it out.

Why’s that?

You might look at their product today, which is ugly and bulky, and think that Magic Leap has no chance. However, Magic Leap has the clearest shot at success because they have created one of the first operating systems native to augmented reality. That is its sole purpose. They could care less how their product looks to a consumer because they aren’t trying to sell it to consumers today. They’re looking to create the best augmented reality operating system (or Mixed Reality as they like to call it), which then allows for the best experiences to be created.

I was inspired to create this post by the following tweet:

Ten years ago, the Android operating system was launched and look what they’ve done for the world since. I see many similarities between what Android created and the potential of Magic Leap. What follows, are three experiences I’d like Magic Leap developer ecosystem to have achieved within ten years.

Take a Magic Leap… of Faith

To me, Magic Leap’s mixed reality glasses fit perfectly in the timeline of the Information Age.

Initially, we got the Internet. Everyone wanted to be digital and create a website. The next great innovation was Internet Search, which made sense out of all these disparate websites. Eventually, this gave way to mobile computing and apps, which maximized the accessibility and uploading of information to the Internet. However, we’re at a moment in time where there’s an abundance of Information that is being underutilized.

This is where Magic Leap could take us into the next stage of the Information Age, where information is accessible directly to our field of vision via their photonic wafers (basically a lens).

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Curiosity Creates Context

A lot of the Internet’s information contains spatial qualities. Restaurant reviews are tied to physical locations. Wikipedia pages inform us of historic landmarks beneath our feet; they also bring clarification to the laws of nature around us.

There’s an abundance of contextual information passively waiting in our physical surroundings, ready for our curiosity to spike and get us to Google it on our smartphones. Magic Leap brings the process of curiously searching for knowledge directly to our field of view.

As I write this theory, I’m looking out into an open courtyard, wondering what type of tree is before me with the beautiful ember-colored autumn leaves. Magic Leap (one day) will not only identify what type of tree it is, but also ask me if I’d like to learn why leaves change color – perhaps if I’m interested in hearing a poem by Robert Frost about that particular tree.

As I walk past restaurants, their helpful reviews show up. As I walk past the community center, upcoming classes appear.

If you want to talk about the future of Wikipedia (and the rest of the Internet’s information), it’s in Magic Leap – helping to bring rich context to our surroundings.

The End of Awkward Silence

When we apply this technology to our interactions with people, theoretically, we’ll never again feel at a loss for words. Magic Leap will recognize who’s in front of us, scour their social profiles to see what they’ve been interested in or up to recently, and give us something to talk about.

I don’t know about you, but I always feel terrible when I’ve completely missed a big event in someone’s life. Just recently, I found out one of my old college friend’s got offered a job with the Milwaukee Bucks. A dream come true for him. Days earlier I was talking with him and didn’t congratulate him because I didn’t know. Somehow, that life update passed right by me. And here I am, weeks after the big day, sending him a congratulations.

Ryan, Inevitable/Human

Sometimes all we need is a small talking point to get a conversation going. Magic Leap offers an opportunity where we truly become more social because of our technology.

Speaking of social moments…

Layers of Time

Each and every photograph we take with our phones is geotagged. Meaning, there’s a GPS coordinate encoded in that photograph (unless you explicitly turn it off). Although this rarely proves to be useful to us, it presents an interesting new experience in Magic Leap.

Photographs could in a way act as digital graffiti, recorded in the place they were taken, and viewable through our Magic Leap glasses at a later date. As you walk by different locations, photographs that were once taken there could be viewed.

There would be different sharing settings, of course, controlling whether or not your photo is public and whose photos you want to be able to view. Perhaps you are going for total publicity. Maybe you’d prefer just family and friends in those locations.

Imagine traveling to Paris, standing in the same spot your mother and father took a picture, seeing that photo, and taking your own. It’s kind of like leaving photographic breadcrumbs in places you’ve traveled. Who knows, one day it could turn into an entirely new travel experience for future generations to walk the same paths as their ancestors.

This would also be fascinating for landscape photography. I, for one, love walking past big construction projects to watch their progress over time. However, by the time the new building has gone up, I’ve forgotten what it used to look like.

The Rodney Dangerfield movie Back to School, takes place at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. In a way, the movie acts as a geographic time capsule for all the buildings at the time of shooting over 30 years ago.

Looking at old pictures or videos somewhat fills this curiosity. But, imagine your field of vision incorporating pictures from the past for comparison with the real thing today.

In a way, we’d be layering moments in time – effectively time traveling to a location’s past.

Naturally, there are a number of possible advances that augmented and mixed reality could bring to the world. That’s why it is so exciting.

However, the greatest value AR has to offer is bringing context to our surroundings – feeding us information about the current situation that can inform us to make better decisions, recognize opportunities, and be more aware of our surroundings?

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