The once blurry and mysterious vision of Magic Leap's future is slowly coming into focus in the present, despite the company's obsessive attempts to keep any and all information under wraps until the next reveal is absolutely necessary. A new tidbit of information hints at an addition to the company's unfolding story that almost no one had accounted for: retail stores.
In a job posting that surfaced this week, Magic Leap announces that it's looking for a director of store design.
Specifically, the job listing outlines the position as playing "a key role in delivering on the promise of Magic Leap's innovative retail experience […] This role requires the guardianship and evolution of our store design and fixturing, as well as the development of merchandising layouts and spatial concepts."
So no, this isn't about an online software store, this is about a brick and mortar location (or locations) that would conceivably usher new users into the Magic Leap experience in much the same way as physical locations have bolstered Apple's fortunes over the years.
"You will be leading the creation of new store concepts from the development of the strategy/spatial experience to the fixtures and product displays as well as being involved in site selection and negotiations, as well as, project and vendor management," the job posting continues. "You will also be involved in the design of sales event spaces, POP, and shop-in-shop concepts."
Let's pay attention to the exact wording here — spatial experience. It stands to reason that, based on the augmented reality nature of the product, the physical space of (at least some of) the stores will be vitally important. By designing a physical space with AR in mind from the ground up, the ability to astound consumers with immersive computing feats tailored to specific experiences will be that much easier.
Last year, while attending the VRLA conference, I managed to get a firsthand look at how physical spaces devoted to a specific AR experience can work a bit of magic, in this case, via Microsoft's HoloLens Easter Egg hunt. That HoloLens experience perfectly married a specially designed physical environment full of fake trees, rocks, and ponds with software that was finely tailored to interact with the physical space as HoloLens users walked throughout the construct. It's not hard to imagine Magic Leap doing the same thing with some of its physical stores.
And let's also look at that last part, regarding pop-up stores. Popups sound far more realistic than any notions of Magic Leap suddenly rolling out a network of retail stores around the country. Instead, it seems, based on the job posting, that at least part of the strategy will focus on partnerships with existing retail shops and likely VIP-style pop-up event shops in high-end shopping districts. It doesn't seem likely that Microsoft (which makes the competing HoloLens) would welcome such an in-store collaboration. And Apple is all about Apple products unless you're selling a tiny accessory.
That leaves chain stores like Best Buy, which, let's face it, isn't exactly the kind of "premium computer" buying environment Magic Leap has probably envisioned for its products. So that means the partnerships may crop up in unlikely places, sometimes as a result of software partnerships (imagine a Nike x Magic Leap app in-store experience, for example).
One other thing stands out in the job posting: the successful hire may be required to travel up to 75% of the time. So while it appears unlikely that Magic Leap is planning to unleash a chain of 500 stores across the US anytime soon, what this does indicate is that the company is planning to extend its retail reach as far as possible, requiring the store design director to travel the major of his/her time.
Of course, just because there's a job listing, that doesn't mean we'll see the Magic Leap One: Creator Edition in brick and mortar stores this year. As we know from years of incremental development, that job listing could be targeting 2020 or later.
As for what the store designs will look like, the only views of what Magic Leap has in mind in terms of physical spaces have come via company videos (see below) showing off its Florida-based operation. Unlike the slick attention to detail Apple devotes to its workspaces, the Magic Leap space looks fairly pedestrian, save for a few colorful dashes of company branding layered on an otherwise nondescript building.
Still, the fact that Magic Leap appears so taken with its own logo, slapping it everywhere it can inside its workspace, is another indication that the company is looking to mirror some Apple's branding and design mojo. Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz has already compared the first baby steps at Magic Leap to Apple, so it stands to reason that he's looking to copy a few other successful components of iPhone giant's overall brand strategy.
Finally, here's my favorite part of the job listing: the successful job candidate must be "comfortable with ambiguity and change."
That just might be the first understatement Magic Leap has ever made.
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