A Magic Leap Into An Entirely Different Direction For Google Glass?
Could a recent investment offer clues to the search giant's developing vision for the wearable future? Columnist Daniel Cristo explores the possibilities.
For several years now, the world has been watching Google roll out its revolutionary head-mounted display product, Google Glass, to mixed reviews.
From a technological perspective, the product is amazing. Perfect? Not even close, but still amazing. From a consumer perspective, it’s weird and obnoxious.
Whether or not Google wants to publicly admit it, the company knows it’s not a home run in its current form. Perhaps that’s why Google is taking a big gamble on a shadowy little startup called Magic Leap.
Magic Leap, Inc., a Florida-based software development company, has raised $542 million in series B funding led by Google Inc., with participation from several other well-known venture capital firms.
Magic Leap claims to have unique “light field” technology that allows the blending of virtual reality with reality reality. People wearing what will likely be Magic Leap glasses will see virtual images projected into the real world.
For example, Magic Leap’s demo video illustrates how supposedly with its technology, someone could see a tiny elephant in their own hands:
There hasn’t been a public unveiling of the viewing device and execs aren’t even saying much about the technology — a New York Times article from earlier this year perhaps has the most (and that’s not a lot) of detail about it about it. The only other clue we have is that CEO Rony Abovitz called it a “lightweight wearable” device in a TechCrunch piece, and the NYT piece seems to indicate it’s being made in a glasses-like form.
Whatever its form factor, it is generating high excitement among prominent investors, including Richard Taylor, who co-founded New Zealand-based Weta Workshop, which was responsible for special effects in the visually-spectacular Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films.
[blockquote cite=”Richard Taylor of Weta Workshop, who serves on Magic Leap’s BOD”]We are now at the threshold of giving people a dynamic image interface that harmonizes with their senses in a completely natural way. As a storyteller and as a person that loves creating and sharing imaginative worlds, it’s a very exciting time. The Magic Leap team has created something truly game changing. It is like a rocket ship for the mind.[/blockquote]
The massive funding round certainly signifies Google’s believe in Magic Leap’s claims to have overcome some of the physical and sensory problems that VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) can induce, such as motion sickness, headaches and dizziness. In part, this may be due to how Magic Leap says it projects an image onto the viewer’s retina, described as a “3-D light sculpture.”
Connecting The Dots
Though the Magic Leap investment seems to be tied to Android, Chrome and Apps, and since Sundar Pichai, the executive responsible for those platforms, will be joining Magic Leap’s board, proprietary technology like Magic Leap’s could take Google Glass to a whole new level. The marrying of these technologies could pave the way for a true augmented reality experience as opposed to Glass’ current “projector”- like interface.
It would also level the playing field against Facebook, which sunk $2 billion into buying VR gaming company, Oculus last March. Both Facebook and Google are betting big on VR and AR as content delivery platforms, and subsequently, ad delivery platforms.
This new AR direction for Glass might also explain why Google didn’t exercise its option for continued investment in Himax Technology. Himax is Google’s lead supplier for its Glass displays. In July of 2013 Google purchased 6.3% of the company in an effort to boost production capabilities.
Additionally, Google had the option of buying up to 14.8% of the company within a year—which we now know did not happen. We can assume this means that Google doesn’t anticipate a major Glass rollout (Google Glass is still in open beta through the Explorer program) until at least late 2015.
It may also mean Google doesn’t expect the current generation of Glass to go mainstream, and is holding off on a full production run until it can sway consumer interest with an improved design and more impressive AR technology.
What This Means For Search
Wearables, like Google Glass, have a tremendous impact on how users search for and engage with content — from the way users input queries to the way search results are presented to apps that need to be crawled. With the lack of investment in Himax, Google has signaled it is stepping back from what many thought to be its main direction.
There is more to this than just a delay in the future getting here. The investment in Magic Leap shows Google’s hand on where it believes content is headed. With text, images, video and now AR, Google wants to control the next form of content even more strongly than it does with video on YouTube.
As marketers, we, too should be looking to master AR—maybe not the technical aspects of how AR works, but rather what the medium’s capabilities are, and what an AR-based marketing campaign might be like.
Remember, augmented reality is not new. Savvy marketers have been doing AR campaigns for years, but up until now, they’ve relied on tiny mobile devices and one-off apps to create a novel, but limited, experience.
However, replace the tiny mobile device and low-resolution AR capabilities with a head-mounted display that delivers highly immersive graphics you can watch for hours without feeling nauseated, and a world of marketing possibilities opens before you.
Imagine standing in your bedroom, in front of your full length mirror, flipping through digital outfits perfectly projected on your body from your favorite retailer. There really would be little need to ever step into a retail store changing room ever again.
Just like retailers built a website, then added product pictures and then videos, they’ll once again need to build up a fresh library of AR and VR assets for their products.
With all this new AR content being created, Google is going to need to learn how to discover and rank it alongside traditional content. While I’m sure there’s a team dedicated to just that buried somewhere inside the Googleplex, we’re still years away from the supportive technology needed to deliver the new content. That said, investments like Magic Leap and Oculus help to lay another brick on that path.
The New Glass
Google Glass may or may not be the product that ushers in a new era of content, but soon enough Facebook, Apple, Amazon or Microsoft or the next big tech giant will find a way to bring AR content to the masses — and when it does, it’s going to open up a new dimension of marketing, especially for search.
What do you think? Can Magic Leap’s technology make the next generation of Glass a winner?