Augmented reality, or mixed reality as some would call it, has always been touted as the future of computing more than its sibling, virtual reality. Even Apple CEO Tim Cook has been more supportive of AR efforts than VR, though it is mostly limited to iPads and iPhones so far. Mixed reality headsets are almost impossible to come by if you’re a consumer, even if a well-funded one. If you were hoping that Magic Leap would be the one to commercialize AR for good, however, its latest announcement will probably sound more like a death knell that a business-saving strategy.
Magic Leap’s announcement, coming via CEO Rony Abovitz, has the unsurprising preamble of how the COVID-19 pandemic has effectively changed the world as we know it. That alone already sets the tone of what it was about to say next, changing the focus of its business drastically. It is starting by laying off “a number of employees” which news outlets are reporting is actually half of its entire workforce.
With significantly reduced resources, Magic Leap will be shifting its focus to serve enterprise customers, much like what Microsoft also did with its HoloLens platform. Unlike Microsoft, however, Magic Leap has always pushed AR as something that consumers would be able to appreciate and use to make their lives more productive and fun. In other words, more than just a change in business strategy, this is also a change of its core vision.
It’s easy enough for Magic Leap to put the blame on recent circumstances surrounding the novel coronavirus. The truth of the matter, however, is that company was already in trouble and bleeding even before the crisis hit global markets. COVID-19 just becomes a convenient scapegoat for what some would probably characterize as an already sinking ship.
The future of Magic Leap still remains uncertain despite this new focus as the AR business even in the enterprise isn’t exactly a profitable one either. It does set the consumer AR market back significantly as almost all major players have now abandoned it, leaving consumers to settle for AR experiences they can only view on their smartphone screens.