Peggy Johnson helped advance the mobile phone revolution while working at Qualcomm (QCOM) in the ’90s and early 2000s.
Now, as CEO of Magic Leap, he is doing the same for augmented reality (AR). In November, the company launched the Magic Leap 2, a hi-tech AR headset that lets users see virtual images in 3D.
Unlike the first version of the product released in 2018, the Magic Leap 2 is lighter, faster and has a wider field of view. It also targets industries ranging from defense to healthcare rather than consumers more broadly. The cost of the device is $3,299.
Magic Leap, a private company, has approximately 1,000 employees and is headquartered in South Florida. Johnson joined the company as CEO in 2020. Previously, he spent 6 years as vice president of business development at Microsoft (MSFT). Prior to that, he spent 25 years at Qualcomm where he served as Vice President of Global Market Development, among other positions.
Johnson recently joined Andy Serwer of Yahoo Finance to discuss topics such as Magic Leap’s product, the company’s future, and gender diversity.
Some edited highlights from the speech:
What Magic Leap does: “So, we’re making a head-mounted device. You wear it over your eye. In fact, you can think of it like a computer in your eyes. And you still see your physical world around you, but we place digital content in this physical world very cleverly. It is augmented reality. And that’s the difference from virtual reality is virtual reality, you usually put something over your eyes and you’re completely turned off. You are in a completely different virtual world.”
In Magic Leap 1 vs. Magic Leap 2: “The device is still great today, the first device. But they largely steered the company towards the consumer market… The size of the device was not something consumers would wear for very long. It was a bit heavy. And then the cost, you know, was sold through some consumer channels and side-by-side with a phone.. “There was no winning combination there. But even getting the device where it is was a great start. That led us to Magic Leap 2, which was originally built from the ground up for use by the company.”
About how Magic Leap was ahead of its time: “Actually, Magic Leap has been in the industry, I think, much longer than most players we’ve heard of now – more than a decade, as I said. And so it was ahead of its time, but the vision was right. And technology and the ability to do technology had to catch up. For me, it’s just like mobile phones. So, that’s the industry I grew up in. I spent 25 years at Qualcomm, and they went through the same trajectory.
About Magic Leap’s privacy challenges: “I think we should get ahead of that. This device has a lot more images and sensors that go far beyond what a phone does for example. And I think we’re already dealing with our data on a phone. So we need to protect that data from the very beginning, whether it’s corporate data or consumer data. For example, the camera is looking at your eyes. You can make someone’s bio. So we have to be careful, we have to keep this data safe. The good thing about our company called Magic Leap is that all we do is build an augmented reality platform. We don’t have a business model that we depend on that data. And we From our point of view, it is extremely personal data that must be retained and protected at all times and only released when the user or company allows it.”
About Magic Leap’s competitors and how its product differs: “Speaking of consumer-facing companies, there are some devices you’re going to see out there, they largely solve one problem. And that’s great. There are use cases they solve. These are great use cases. But they’re not extremely immersive augmented reality. And by that, I mean , most are just warning indicators. So you’re wearing the lenses and maybe there are notifications at the top. Some tips to help you do your job better as a consumer may be entertaining you or showing you where to walk to get to the next building you need to go to. And that’s it.
Ours is a little different as we are the most immersive augmented reality device on the market. So in Magic Leap, the digital content right before your eyes is so accurately placed that we have to trick your eyes into thinking it’s there.”
On the metaverse: “I have a bit of a reaction to Metaverse because I actually think that if you google Metaverse, it’s a virtual reality world. And while that’s the case, I think this limits what I think is the true promise of the Metaverse. And this is this remarkable world where we can lift our heads from our phones, hang up, and go back to your physical world. And the data you are looking for on your phone lives very comfortably in your field of vision. And you won’t trip over the coffee table.
So you are mobile. You can continue your work. And it just increases the way you view your digital content. So, really, when the digital and physical worlds merge seamlessly, I think that’s the true promise of the Metaverse.”
About editing: “Going back to mobile, I think we’ve learned that we have to be responsible for the release of previous versions of any technology. We cannot simply release new technologies into the world and expect others to be responsible for their use. We have to think, what can this technology do? What are the good things, but also what are the harmful things it can do if it falls into the wrong hands or falls into the wrong scenarios?
About female engineers: “It’s kind of an untouched community. But for them to come in, they have to feel included and have the right environments that won’t cause them to leave after a few years, as many of my colleagues do. And so that’s changing. We have companies that definitely understand that. To have the most inclusive environments they’re working.”
On the future of AR and what it’s trying to achieve: “I see augmented reality as the next paradigm in computing. And it sounds to me like the cell phone did in the early days. Like, this will be something. There will definitely be more than a handful of businesses buying it. This is the beginning of something. [As] There were cell phones. I feel the same about augmented reality. I think one day even contact form will be the next tool we all have so you won’t even notice it’s there. But it helps you. It is a tool for all of us to do our jobs better, to live, work and play better.”
Dylan Croll is a reporter and researcher at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @CrollonPatrol.
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