Public sentiment is hard to grasp but somehow we can all feel it. Whether it be a company, artist or even about politics we get a sense of what the world or at least certain groups think about it. Very quickly a convergence of opinion happens and often that turns into what people believe to be true regardless of what the real truth is. This "truth" then becomes sticky. People cling to it. Sometimes they cling to it even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.
For companies building a consumer product, being able to control this public sentiment, the zeitgeist, is vital. Yet very few are able to do it well or consistently. Magic Leap is amongst those that are struggling in this effort. You may think I am talking about the latest articles that have just come out but I am not. As I will argue, these articles are actually good for Magic Leap. I am referring to the uncontrolled expectations caused by the vacuum of information Magic Leap created. They created a mythical image of a product that was everything and nothing all at once. They created an imaginary device for people to project their wildest dreams onto. No such device could truly exist. Those expectations could never be met.
Magic Leap needed some negative press to temper these expectations and it needed it as far ahead of product launch as it could get. That pent up excitement, and resentment, needed to come out before the realities of the product crush the perfect image in our heads.
Reed Albergotti's article on the information confirmed much of what was suspected by Karl Guttag in his blog. Through first hand interviews and demos, Albergotti was able to show that some of the technology Magic Leap hoped to use was not yet ready to go in a consumer product. This means that some of the technical advantages that many assumed Magic Leap to have will not be seen in the first product.
If this revelation was kept until launch day, the backlash would be monumental. There is a good chance it would sink the company regardless of how good the product is. But letting off some of the steam now, the product expectations will be lower. There will be more room for Magic Leap to make mistakes and more room for the things they get right to be brought to the forefront instead of being relegated as second fiddle to an imaginary perfect product.
So even if Magic Leap didn't know it, even if they are upset about it, Albergotti's article is exactly what Magic Leap needed if they have any hopes of succeeding in their first product. The hype train needed to be stopped.
Yet there is a fear that this negative press will create a public perception that will never go away. The stickiness of this new "truth". I would argue that memory isn't that long and products speak for themselves. By the time the product launches, expectations will be low and the negativity seen today will be a shadow of what it was. Most likely, people will be somewhat dismissive of the product but curious none the less. If the product is any good then they might be pleasantly surprised. If the product simply isn't any good... Well then, it won't matter either way.
While petty 'I told you so's' and premature grave dancing continues on many sites, there is much to be hopeful for from the article on The Information.
This is the first time we have heard of the 'Product Equivalent' or PEQ. This is a device manufactured at Magic Leaps factory that is close to the product they actually want to ship. While Albergotti did not get to touch or use the PEQ he did get to see it. From his description, it proves that the most fundamental feature of Magic Leap is still a priority.
This is and has always been the most important aspect of Magic Leap. If they build a clone of hololens but it looks like a reasonable, if bulky, sized pair of glasses they will have built a compelling product. If they add some level of focal queues into that product, then it will still have a wow factor beyond hololens and way beyond what a typical consumer knows or expects.
The progress made on this sounds promising. They are really building it. We still don't know what it will be capable of but we do know progress is being made. If nothing else, this negative press solidifies the transition Magic Leap has made from an R&D company to a Product company. And that product is coming.
One last point
Reading Albergotti's article and you get a sense of both the issues Magic Leap is facing as well as the acknowledgement that they are working in a challenging space. You get the feeling that, yes, they aren't what the hype implied but they are still interesting and worthy of our time. An impression to stay tuned because they still might make something great.
After doing no research or reporting themselves, after being continually dismissive of the company in the past, they wrote a petty 'I told you so' article. It was oddly childish and doesn’t reflect what Albergotti wrote particularly accurately.
I don't get why we live to shoot down people who try something new and ambitious. Why we get this urge to say 'No. Stop. You can't be good.' Why we jump on them as soon as we see a chink in their armour and are proud of ourselves for it. Perhaps it is a form of humanities worst emotion, jealousy. Perhaps we feel they are belittling us because we aren't trying hard enough so we fight against it. I sometimes feel this way and I hate that I do.
We should be praising companies and people that try. Especially new companies that want to break the Google/Apple/Microsoft mould we are currently trapped in. We should celebrate their success and encourage them when they struggle. We should acknowledge that ambitious things are hard and not expect too much of them (something I am certainly guilty of). I enjoy much of what the verge writes but sometimes their hubris and their snarkyness gets the best of them. I hope they report with a more open mind in the future.