The company augmented reality that Rony Abovitz was trying to build at Magic Leap apparently wasn't working out the way he hoped it would. That company, built on dreams, music, and future-looking entertainment, rather than truly new technology, came with a $2,300 price tag for a device using dynamics most mainstream consumers have never even tried.
The hurdles were steep. Today, Abovitz is about to embark upon a new journey that seems to truly speak directly to his interests: entertainment. On Wednesday, Abovitz unveiled his new company called Sun and Thunder.
In the same way he gradually introduced the Magic Leap 1, Abovitz is once again teasing his new project with mystery. Very little detail is included in his initial tweet or on the website, but the promises are, as usual, very lofty.
"Sun and Thunder was created in the fall of 2020," reads the website announcement. "The idea was inspired by early animation studios, mythopoeia concepts pioneered by the Inklings, and the freewheeling and creative spirit of indie record labels. Plus some serious sci-fi tech."
Maybe that last sentence is a reference to the Magic Leap 1, or maybe it's just more aspirational language... the kind we became accustomed to hearing from Magic Leap to describe the waveguide technology Microsoft's HoloLens introduced much earlier. Either way, this new project seems fundamentally more in line with Abovitz's real passion, which seems to involve music and entertainment rather than the drier confines of selling factory floor solutions to enterprise customers.
What's coming from Sun and Thunder? Apparently, a virtual character called Jako Vega. Yes, that does sound like a Star Wars character...incidentally, the storytelling franchise Abovitz was most obsessed with during his time leading Magic Leap.
"Jako Vega, also known as Yellow Dove, will be featured in a series of Sun and Thunder Supernova short film experiments this year," reads the website announcement. " Yellow Dove is a member of the Sun and Thunder team, a co-creator, and traveler through a number of interconnected Sun and Thunder storyworlds. He is a musician and the first artist on Sun and Thunder Records."
Ah, there it is—Sun and Thunder Records. You see, there's a reason the first time most people heard of Magic Leap was via a Rolling Stone feature. The music journal wasn't really the right forum to interrogate the prospects of a next-gen immersive computing device, but it was the perfect forum to sell dreams to an audience trained in accepting metaphor as reality. Sun and Thunder isn't just a toe-dip into the metaverse of virtual beings, it's also Abovitz's chance to be a music guy—even if the artists are made of light, instead of flesh and blood.
If you zoom out to view the entire trajectory of Magic Leap, you'll see that Sun and Thunder is truer to Abovitz's vision than anything else. Remember that TED talk Abovitz performed nearly a decade ago? Take another look. See? That concept performance art looks a lot more in line with Sun and Thunder than anything newly appointed Magic Leap CEO Peggy Johnson is tasked with accomplishing via enterprise AR.
Hopefully, Abovitz's new project will give him the vindication and joy he's been pursuing all these years. But if I had to bet, my guess is that whatever comes out of his new venture, it won't just be available on Magic Leap 1, it will likely be distributed across various AR platforms—which in itself will be incredibly revealing. Platforms matter. Sure, building new infrastructure takes dreaming, but it also takes execution, over a long period of time—which can be boring, especially if you often think of yourself as a music and sci-fi person.
Now, Abovitz gets to play in the sandbox of immersive computing in exactly the way he wants, without the constraints of multi-billion dollar funding from Google and others hovering over his head waiting for results. Will the results be as impressive as the Magic Leap virtual being known as MICA? If so, it may turn out that Abovitz's exit was exactly what we needed.