Whenever the name Magic Leap comes up, the talk inevitably seems to turn to the company's big-name backers and "unicorn-level" amounts of cash poured into the venture. And if it's not that, observers tend to focus on the company's market strategy and overall prospects.
These are all important discussion points, but amid all the analysis and futurecasting, one thing about the Magic Leap One seems to get overlooked a little too often: It's actually fun to use!
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But along with those apps, there are a few, lesser-known apps available on the device that deserve some recognition. They reveal a lot of the attention to detail, sometimes whimsical approaches, and wholly different experiences the augmented reality device offers. These are just a few of those apps that you might not have had a chance to try, but should.
This app, produced by international interactive studio The Mill, isn't really an experience, or a game, it's more like the satisfying delivery on a promise made years ago by Magic Leap. Those who followed the Magic Leap story from its earliest days will remember how long the company's website teased the capabilities of the then unseen device by showing a person holding a virtual elephant in the palm of their hands.
Well, if you're one of the people who yelled "where's the whale!" when the device first launched in 2018 (another iconic animal promised in early Magic Leap promos and eventually delivered on the device), you should know that you can now "hold" the virtual elephant, too.
When you launch the app, you must first select a place on the floor to pin the virtual asset to and then watch it turn into a life-sized baby elephant right before your eyes.
Left on its own the pachyderm will idle in place, emitting the occasional friendly roar. But if you put down the controller, and hold out your hands in a cradling motion, suddenly the animal shrinks and moves to sit in the palms of your hands. And it stays anchored to your "hand cradle" wherever you move it.
It's a simple experience that completes that vision teased when Magic Leap first began its original awareness push years ago.
My original plan was to give Star Wars super fans a deep dive look at this app that's rooted in the George Lucas universe. Alas, since the app is so straightforward and simple (as opposed to something more developed, like Dr. Grordbort's Invaders), it's best to mention it here briefly.
First, there's something truly magical about watching Star Wars holograms on movie screens, as projected by R2D2, for so many years and then finally getting the experience it in real life. It really closes the loop of science fiction finally becoming a reality in a sense.
Upon launching the app, you're greeted by the familiar form of C-3PO, who appears as a (deliberately) fuzzy hologram. The robot's familiar voice and nervous chatter quickly pull you into the world of Star Wars.
Soon, the porgs begin to appear, and it quickly becomes apparent that the main objective of the game (at least as long as I played) is to train and feed the porgs. The virtual creatures are cute, playful, clumsy, and fascinating to watch and feed — for a while.
Training and feeding porgs as the central point of the experience may be worth hours of engagement if you're really obsessed with porgs, but if not, staying locked into the app might be challenging.
Still, it's an incredibly well done and polished dive into the world of Star Wars in a way that's currently unavailable on any other platform.
Earlier this month, we found out that for the 20th anniversary of The Matrix, the film that best depicted virtual reality, the movie will be re-released in theaters later this month to celebrate its lasting power. Like Star Wars, pretty much everyone with a pulse has either seen the film or knows what it is.
And while this app isn't officially affiliated with the film, and doesn't suddenly give you Neo-like powers, it does the next best thing. It lets you see the flowing code walls Keanu Reeves discovers when he reaches the height of his powers in the film.
But instead of seeing just numbers, code, and Japanese katakana, as shown in the film, this Matrix-style experience includes the Magic Leap logo. And if you've mapped your space thoroughly, you see the Magic Rain imagery flow in precisely the way the code walls did in The Matrix.
Plenty of computer screensavers and VR experiences have offered this experience in the past. But this is the first time I've seen something that actually duplicates (minus the green hue and malevolent agents) what Neo sees in the film. If you're a hardcore Matrix fan like me, it's a must-see experience.
Recently, we covered this mobile AR app's transition into the world of spatial computing. Until now, my experience with the app was limited to the smartphone version, which was good enough to make our Best Augmented Reality Apps list last year.
But beyond brief testing, I mostly viewed the mobile app as an educational tool that might be better suited for children. However, now that I've tried the Magic Leap version, adults might enjoy this app experience, too.
Once you've anchored the virtual Earth globe in your space, you're given the option of selecting several famous locations, including China's Forbidden City, New York City's Statue of Liberty, India's Taj Mahal, or Russia's Saint Basil Cathedral.
After you select a location, you're prompted to anchor the landmark on a table or floor surface, after which you can begin putting the landmark back together after it has exploded into a collection of parts. The puzzles aren't hard, so the real satisfaction comes from getting the pieces to lock into place, and then reading historical facts about the landmark presented in the app after you're done.
Another treat is the detail included in some of the environments. For example, on Liberty Island, if you look closely, you can see a tiny couple frolicking around the statue, and on the other side of the island, a woman is enthusiastically taking a selfie.
If you're well-traveled, this app is probably is a little too rudimentary for you. Otherwise, it's a great (albeit, fairly simple) immersive primer on some of the famous wonders of the world. It also felt very "board game-like," which was fun. The game also made me wish for a multiplayer Magic Leap version of Monopoly in the future.
If there's a weak point, it's that there aren't enough locations to explore. The app might experience an uptick in engagement from all ages if the team added a lot more location puzzles (at least 50) to the experience. As is, it's a great tabletop-style game that can serve as an accessible entryway into the world of spatial computing.
I stumbled upon this app entirely by accident while exploring the Magic Leap World app store. That's a good sign. If every app on the Magic Leap One comes with a major announcement, that probably means not enough apps are being developed for the platform. But increasingly, I'm discovering unannounced surprises on the Magic Leap One.
Crane Craze is incredibly simple, and just a little addictive. The simplest way to describe the game is "Jenga using buildings."
After you anchor the virtual construction site on your real-world floor, you begin the process of delicately stacking houses on top of each other. The process relies heavily on the Control device — which is incredibly responsive in this game — to manipulate objects, and this makes for fairly delicate, yet fun operations.
The game was produced by Brazil's Beenoculus, a team that also works on VR experiences. Beyond the "AR Jenga" experience, there's not much more to the game, but what it does, it does well.
I'm also a big fan of the details here, which give the game more character. In this case, that just means I really like the way the tiny construction workers dance (twerk?) while watching you build.
Although most of the experiences above aren't multi-year projects that take many hours for users to complete, they nevertheless indicate that Magic Leap's mission of fostering a developer ecosystem that supports a wide range of apps is gradually succeeding.
Also, the dead-simple (in a good way) nature of some of these apps reminds me of the early days of the first all-in-one Macs. In those days — when data was inserted via floppy disk and screens were black and white — many apps existed just to show you how cool a personal computer could be.
I think we're in similar territory with truly immersive augmented reality computing systems like the Magic Leap One (and the HoloLens). We're just beginning to wrap our minds around this new context, both from the developer and user point of view, so we need some apps that exist just to let users get their AR feet wet.
Of course, the price of the Magic Leap One, and the public's limited exposure to the device's charms (you can try one via some AT&T stores), means that there are still very few people who've actually had a chance to try any of these immersive experiences. For those curious, edge tech explorers, this short round-up has been for you.
These are just a few of the standouts; there are more we didn't include. Stay tuned for a second round soon!