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GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop tries on the Magic Leap 2 headset while the company’s chief technology officer, Julie Larson-Green, talks about the product at the GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

Now that the metaverse is finally getting real, Magic Leap isn’t playing games.

When the mysterious augmented-reality venture was founded back in 2010, the idea was to transform the consumer market with a goggle-eyed headset that would let users play with robotic digital gremlins and a virtual solar system. Over the course of a decade, the Florida-based company raised $2.6 billion in funding — and opened a Seattle engineering office led by science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson.

That was then. This is now: The Seattle office was closed amid controversy in 2020, and Magic Leap is now taking aim at the enterprise market for augmented reality, or AR, rather than the consumer market.

At this week’s GeekWire Summit, Magic Leap’s chief technology officer Julie Larson-Green acknowledged that times have changed.

“There was a lot of money spent going after the consumer AR market,” she said on Thursday. “It was definitely early, and a lot of money was spent on R&D, and it’s a completely different company now.”

Just last week, the company put its second-generation AR device on the market, with three models at price points ranging from $3,299 to $4,999.

“It’s not a consumer device,” Larson-Green said. “You could make games, but you probably don’t want or need all of the capabilities of this device to do a lot of gaming, especially that VR-type gaming.”

Instead, the headset and its associated sensors and smarts are meant to be used by companies that want to guide their employees through work procedures, or by professionals who want to perform a complicated operation virtually before they do it for real. Or maybe even while they’re doing it for real.

“Imagine being a surgeon and [putting] a catheter through a heart or some vessels,” Larson-Green said. “Instead of looking at it on a screen, you can have it over the patient in 3-D, doing the things in 3-D and still being able to see the patient perfectly in all of your monitors.”

Another application is being tested at Lowe’s home improvement stores in cooperation with Nvidia. “The people that are stocking the shelves can wear the Magic Leap device, get a digital-twin overlay of where things go in the store … but then also can use it to figure out what’s in that box up there. Look up, we recognize the box, read the barcode and tell you what’s in the box,” Larson-Green said.

Thanks to upgrades in software and sensors, the lightweight Magic Leap 2 headset has been beefed up for enterprise tasks. “I think Magic Leap 2 is the first one that’s really truly usable in the enterprise for all-day work,” Larson-Green said. “It’s comfortable for eight hours. It’s a 70-degree field of view, which is double the field of view from Magic Leap.”

She said Magic Leap 2 is also configured with a vertical orientation that makes it easier to navigate the AR environment. “You’re not looking through a viewer,” she explained. “It’s very much the full immersive experience. And then of course you’re grounded in the peripheral vision while on the ground. So it doesn’t have the motion-sickness problems or challenges that some devices have.”

Magic Leap chief technology officer Julie Larson-Green shows off the Magic Leap 2 headset during a fireside chat with GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop at the GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

Pivoting to the enterprise market reduces the competitive pressure from lower-cost AR/VR systems that are targeting the consumer market, such as the Meta Quest 2. But the pivot also bring Magic Leap more squarely into competition with Microsoft and its HoloLens system, which already has been adopted by teams at Boeing, Airbus, NASA and the U.S. Army.

So is Magic Leap planning to go to war with Microsoft over augmented reality in the workplace? Magic Leap says its lightweight goggles are more suited for work applications than the bulkier HoloLens headset — which was part of Larson-Green’s argument during her GeekWire Summit appearance.

But the rivalry isn’t a simple matter of us vs. them, in part because Larson-Green spent 25 years as a manager and executive at Microsoft. (For what it’s worth, Magic Leap CEO Peggy Johnson is a Microsoft veteran as well.)

When asked about the Microsoft vs. Magic Leap angle, Larson-Green invoked the wisdom of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

“If you use Satya’s thinking, it’s like a growth mindset of embracing the competition, or the coopetition with those guys. Some of the product teams have been in our EAP [Early Access Program] really early on, trying to develop the things that they develop for HoloLens on Magic Leap devices,” she said.

“We’re working on some ways to interact — you know, to integrate with Teams and other things. So, we talk with folks there all the time,” Larson-Green said. “I think your competition is good, especially in a new space where we’re all trying to invent and find product markets. We can learn from each other … I have nothing but love for those guys.”

And now that the coronavirus pandemic is easing, what about reviving the Seattle engineering office? Larson-Green, who lives just across Lake Washington in Bellevue, said that’s under consideration.

“I want to be wherever the talent is — and obviously there’s a lot of talent, both software and hardware, in the Seattle area. We have several people that work at Magic Leap in the Seattle area. I would love to bring back the office. I’ve been talking with Peggy and some other folks about what size would it need to be for it to make sense for us financially to do that,” she said.

“So you’re saying it’s a possibility?” GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop asked in his moderator role.

“It’s a possibility,” Larson-Green replied. “I’m hoping.”

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