Magic Leap CEO Peggy Johnson on the AR revolution

Working at Qualcomm (QCOM) in the 1990s and early 2000s, Peggy Johnson helped drive the mobile revolution.

Now, as CEO of Magic Leap, he’s doing the same for augmented reality (AR). In November, the company launched the Magic Leap 2, a high-tech AR headset that allows users to view virtual images in 3D.

Unlike the first iteration of the product released in 2018, Magic Leap 2 is lighter, faster and has a larger field of view. It also targets industries ranging from defense to healthcare rather than consumers more broadly. The device costs $3299.

Magic Leap, which is privately owned, has approximately 1,000 employees and is based in South Florida. In 2020, Johnson joined the company as CEO. Prior to that, she was Vice President of Business Development at Microsoft (MSFT) for 6 years. Previously, she worked for Qualcomm for 25 years, where she held, among others, the position of Executive Vice President for Global Market Development.

Johnson recently joined Andy Server Yahoo Finance to discuss topics such as the Magic Leap product, the future of the company and gender diversity.

Some edited excerpts from the conversation:

What does a magic jump do: “So we’re creating a head-mounted device. You wear it on your eyes. You can actually think of it as a computer in front of your eyes. And you still see your physical world around you, but we are very clever in placing digital content within that physical world. This is augmented reality. And how it differs from virtual reality is virtual reality, you usually put something over your eyes and you are completely obscured. You’re in a completely different virtual world.”

Magic Leap 2 AR Goggles

Magic Leap 2 AR Goggles

On Magic Leap 1 vs. Magic Leap 2: “The device to this day is amazing, the first device. However, they pointed the company mainly to the consumer market … The size of the device was not really something that consumers would wear for very long. It was a bit heavy. And then the cost, you know, was sold by some consumer channels and next to the phone … There was no winning combination there. However, just getting the device to where it is was a big start. And then that set us on the path to Magic Leap 2, which was built from the ground up to be used by the company initially.”

How Magic Leap was ahead of its time“In fact, Magic Leap has been in the industry, I believe, much longer than most of the players we hear about now – over a decade as I said. So he was ahead of his time, but the vision was right. And technology and the ability to create technology had to catch up. For me, I think of it as mobile phones. So that was the industry I grew up in. I spent 25 years at Qualcomm. And they went through the same trajectory.”

On the privacy challenges of Magic Leap: “I think we need to overtake it. This device has many more images and sensors that go far beyond, say, what a phone does. And I think we are already worried about our data on the phone. So we need to protect that data from the start, whether it’s corporate data or consumer data. For example, the camera is looking at your eyes. You can make a bio-identity of someone. So we have to be careful to protect this data. The good thing about our company, Magic Leap, is that all we do is build a platform, an augmented reality platform. We do not have a business model where we are dependent on this data. From our point of view, this is highly personal data that needs to be kept and protected at all times and only shared if the user or company allows it.”

About Magic Leap’s competitors and how their product is different: “To talk about consumer-centric businesses, there are several devices that largely solve one problem. And that’s great. There are use cases for which they solve problems. These are great use cases. But they are not very immersive augmented reality. And by that I mean a lot of them are just head-up displays. So you put on your lenses and maybe notifications pop up at the top. There are some tips that will help you do your job better or as a consumer, they can entertain you or point you where to go to the next building you need to go to. And that’s all right.

Ours is a bit different because we are the most immersive augmented reality device on the market. So the digital content you have in front of your eyes in Magic Leap is very precisely placed, so much so that we have to trick your eyes into thinking it’s there.”

In the Metauniverse: “I have a bit of a reaction to the Metaverse because I think if you search the Metaverse on Google, a virtual reality world comes up. And while it is, I think it limits what I consider the real promise of the Metaverse. And it’s this heads-up world where our head can look up from our phones, put down the phone and you’re back in your physical world. And the data you were looking for in the phone just lives very comfortably in your field of view. And you won’t trip over the coffee table.

So you are mobile. You can continue your work. And that only adds to the way you view your digital content. So when the digital and physical worlds come together seamlessly, I think that’s the real promise of the Metaverse.”

On regulation: “I think from the release of previous versions of all kinds of technology, even going back to mobile phones, we’ve learned that we have to be responsible. We can’t just release new technologies to the world and expect others to be responsible for using them. We have to think about what this technology can do? What are the good things, but also what harmful things can it do if it falls into the wrong hands or in the wrong scenarios?

On women engineers: “It’s kind of like this untapped community. But for them to come in, they need to feel included and have the right environment that wouldn’t cause them to leave after a few years like many of my colleagues. And that’s how it changes too. We definitely have companies that understand this. They are working to create the most open environment possible.”

On the future of AR and what it’s trying to achieve: “I see augmented reality as the next paradigm in computing. And it seems to me the same as a mobile phone in the beginning. It will be something. It will definitely be more than a handful of companies that will buy it. This is the beginning of something. [As] cell phones were. I have the same impression when it comes to augmented reality. I think it will be the next tool we all have, hopefully one day it will even come in contact form so you won’t even notice it’s there. But it helps you. It’s a tool we’re all going to need to do our jobs better and live, work and play better.”

Dylan Croll is a reporter and researcher at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @CrollonPatrol.

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