Virtual reality overlaid on the real world in this manner is called mixed reality, or MR. (The goggles are semitransparent, allowing you to see your actual surroundings.) It is more difficult to achieve than the classic fully immersive virtual reality, or VR, where all you see are synthetic images, and in many ways MR is the more powerful of the two technologies. ... Magic Leap is not the only company creating mixed-reality technology, but right now the quality of its virtual visions exceeds all others. Because of this lead, money is pouring into this Florida office park. ... At the beginning of this year, the company completed what may be the largest C-round of financing in history: $793.5 million. To date, investors have funneled $1.4 billion into it. ... to really understand what’s happening at Magic Leap, you need to also understand the tidal wave surging through the entire tech industry. All the major players—Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Sony, Samsung—have whole groups dedicated to artificial reality, and they’re hiring more engineers daily. Facebook alone has over 400 people working on VR. Then there are some 230 other companies, such as Meta, the Void, Atheer, Lytro, and 8i, working furiously on hardware and content for this new platform. To fully appreciate Magic Leap’s gravitational pull, you really must see this emerging industry—every virtual-reality and mixed-reality headset, every VR camera technique, all the novel VR applications, beta-version VR games, every prototype VR social world. ... The recurring discovery I made in each virtual world I entered was that although every one of these environments was fake, the experiences I had in them were genuine. ... The technology forces you to be present—in a way flatscreens do not—so that you gain authentic experiences, as authentic as in real life.
By some estimates, the market for VR will be worth $150 billion within four years. A decade from now, who knows? It’s impossible to say because no one’s clear on what the platform is best suited to do. But the race is on to figure it out. Never mind that some of the largest players have tried to put things on your face before: 3-D spectacles, Google Glass, and previous incarnations of VR headsets. Those were inferior technologies, they say. This time is different. Try it for yourself and you’ll understand that those technologies died so this one could live. ... Despite feverish press coverage of VR, two-thirds of the U.S. population remains unaware of the technology, according to a survey by research firm Horizon Media. That suggests a definition is in order. There are a few flavors of the technology: virtual reality, augmented reality, and a combination known as mixed reality. They all use a special headset to alter human perception and, in effect, take you somewhere or enable you to see something that would otherwise be invisible. We’re lumping all the technologies under the term VR in this article, both for simplicity’s sake and because all the permutations share the same roots. ... In 1943, IBM’s Thomas Watson predicted “a world market for maybe five computers”—most likely because he was thinking about computers in terms of what they were (the size of a room) rather than what they would become (the size of a fingernail).
Since its July launch Pokémon GO, a free “augmented reality” game by Niantic Labs in which players capture virtual characters mapped to real-world locations, has piled up superlatives. Apple said the game had more downloads in its first week than any other app in history. One in ten Americans plays Pokémon GO daily, according to App Annie, and SurveyMonkey estimates that the game is hauling in as much as $6 million a day from in-app purchases in the U.S. alone (the game is available in 37 countries). ... Just 12 months ago Hanke was an increasingly restless Google employee (he launched Google Earth, among other things) and his company, Niantic, was an overlooked gaming skunkworks lost in the search giant. As Google reorganized itself into Alphabet, Niantic looked likely to be rolled back into the company’s Android division or simply shut down. But Google had the wisdom to let Hanke seek outside investors and spin the company out. That paved the way for Hanke to approach Nintendo and the Pokémon Co., which oversees the brand’s intellectual property, and make the smartest mobile-gaming deal of all time. ... As of May 2016 Pokémon products had grossed $45 billion in lifetime sales.