As we start learning more about Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality headset, it's becoming clearer than ever how little we know about rival headset Magic Leap. Since the company was pushed into the public eye by a $542 million funding round, Magic Leap has shown its product to only a handful of viewers, and most people know it through brief videos of holographic games and applications.
The only thing to do with Magic Leap right now, really, is dig into its past — specifically, its strange evolution from a general entertainment studio to a tech startup building (as far as anyone knows) augmented reality glasses based on fiber optic technology. Sean Hollister has chronicled this process, including a long partnership with digital effects studio Weta Workshop and several patents covering sophisticated projection and tracking systems.
Magic Leap's patent claims and illustrations — which have been covered extensively — have given us a better idea of how the company thinks its product might be used, but they shouldn't be confused for real plans. Recently, however, a reader pointed me toward something new: a long slideshow from a far younger Magic Leap, outlining its ambitious plans for remaking the worlds of computing and entertainment. Aside from the handful of eyewitness accounts, it's never been clear how much of Magic Leap's hype is warranted. This presentation adds more evidence that whatever the company's actual achievements, it's always aimed incredibly — almost science fictionally — high.
(The slideshow has been removed as the result of a copyright notice from Magic Leap. It can be obtained in full by searching USPTO's database with the application number 61/845907.)
Paging DJ Magic Mix
Much of the document, which was appended to a 2013 patent filing, covers things we already know. It goes into detail about Magic Leap's trademark "Sensoryware" augmented reality platform, as well as previously seen games like Monster Battle. We get pictures of the strange "totem" controllers shaped like rings and charm bracelets, and use cases drawn from short films and graphic design.
But we get these couched in what seems like a larger product pitch for someone outside the patent office. Marked as a "confidential draft," the presentation makes huge promises around augmented reality, describing a platform that could deliver games, concerts, social experiences, and productivity tools to any demographic. In fact, it lists quite a number of demographics, from comic con attendee Creative Cara to music fan DJ Magic Mix.
There's a heavy focus on gaming here, with separate categories for "average," "MMO," "extreme," and (awkwardly) "girl" gamers, as well as a "gamified worker" and a market of "anti-gamers" — apparently women who enjoy examining nutritional supplements at grocery stores, although frankly your guess is as good as mine here.
The document actually lends a little context to the patent drawings we saw last year, crediting the inspirations behind them and expanding on their purpose. The image below, for example, is a more detailed version of a patent line drawing, telling us that civil engineer "Average Andrew" is opening up a virtual room to read an email from his colleague. (You may also recognize Average Andrew as the guy watching augmented reality football in last year's illustrations.)
And that freaky gargoyle bursting out of a cereal box? According to a seven-step grocery shopping scenario, it's inviting Magic Leap-wearing children to start a game of Monster Battle.
We also hear about its tentative plans for games like the robot-shooting demo that Magic Leap revealed in March, a project it said was fairly old by then. The presentation suggests that it could "expand into [a] massively multiplayer franchise" like Halo, becoming the first game to blend digital and physical objects — something the demo video, which shows players using a physical prop gun to shoot holographic enemies, certainly does.
A much weirder detail is the ad for a game called Book of Spells, a name I haven't previously seen associated with Magic Leap. Book of Spells was supposed to use a pair of quasi-steampunk Magic Leap glasses and a wand-shaped controller to let players "conjure" creatures from a physical book. Why is that weird? Because around the same time, Sony used a nearly identical premise — and the exact same name — in a game for its Wonderbook augmented reality peripheral.
Magic Leap pitched a way cooler version of Sony's Wonderbook
It's not clear how old this presentation is, although there seems to be a 2012 copyright on Magic Leap's Book of Spells images, a year after Magic Leap started its overall shift toward augmented reality. Wonderbook: Book of Spells, a licensed Harry Potter property, was announced by Sony's London production studio in mid-2012. There's no obvious connection between it and Magic Leap's game — the premise is fairly obvious, Sony used a Move motion controller and flat screen instead of glasses, and the timelines seemingly overlap too closely to be one project. But it's a weird coincidence at the very least.
And unlike the patent illustrations, this doesn't look like a case of Magic Leap using other products as case studies. In fact, it says the game has "huge Magic Leap tentpole franchise potential." Then again, the tone of the presentation suggests that pretty much every idea has huge tentpole franchise potential.
Magic Leap has gotten, if anything, more close-lipped over the past year. President and CEO Rony Abovitz has promised that the company is "gearing up to build millions of things," but it's perpetually pushing back announcements on any hardware and software development kits. These images aren't precisely a peek behind its veil of secrecy — many were explicitly just concepts, any ideas it's kept have probably evolved significantly, and much of the hardware design still doesn't seem technologically feasible.
But they're weird enough that looking them over can still delight and amuse. I'll just close with this picture of an augmented reality email plant. What is an email plant? I'll let Magic Leap explain.
"Let email be a tree. Branch is a person, leaves are messages. Old messages are brown and eventually fall to the ground. Twigs, sub-branches are determined by connectivity of CCs or something. User can easily 'prune' branches from annoying people, or put those branches on the back of the tree."
Honestly, that sounds pretty great.
Update February 4th, 2016 12PM ET: Full slideshow removed at request of copyright holder.