Market Reality: The Year in AR — HoloLens 2, Magic Leap's Rocky Ride, Apple's Future, & AR Startups Under Pressure

The Year in AR — HoloLens 2, Magic Leap's Rocky Ride, Apple's Future, & AR Startups Under Pressure

When filtered through the prism of the top stories of the year, the business of augmented reality 2019 was defined as much by epic failures of AR startups as it was by the promising developments that propelled the industry forward into 2020.

On the dark side of the spectrum, the failures of Meta Company, ODG, and Daqri earlier in the year were bookended by the fraying of Magic Leap's financial foundation towards the end of the year. In between, Magic Leap accused one of the rising stars of the industry, Nreal, of stealing trade secrets.

On the bright side, Microsoft set a new standard with the introduction of the best AR headset, the HoloLens 2, while Snap launched its precursor to AR smartglasses in Spectacles 3, Apple prepared to ship new AR devices in 2020, and Vuzix unveiled a new fashion-forward design of smartglasses.

Here's a look back at some of the top AR stories that shaped the industry in the past year.

Exclusive: Meta Company Folds

The last time we heard from Meta, the makers of the Meta 2 augmented reality headset, things looked pretty bleak. Now, as several new facts have come to light, we have confirmation regarding the beleaguered company's fate: Meta is done.

As we reported back in September 2018, the company was forced to furlough the majority of its staff after failing to secure a new $20 million funding round from investors. On Jan. 9, a filing with a Delaware court inadvertently revealed that Meta is insolvent, and is, for all intents and purposes, finished.

Read the exclusive story, broken first by Next Reality, for all the factors that led to the downfall of Meta Company...

Image by Adario Strange/Next Reality

Microsoft Launches HoloLens 2

The long wait is over — the best augmented reality device on the planet is finally available.

On Nov. 7, Microsoft began the next phase of its immersive computing journey by officially opening sales to the general public for the HoloLens 2.

Continue reading to find out how to get your hands on HoloLens 2 as an individual or a purchasing agent for a major enterprise...

ODG Stripped for Parts

While the story of augmented reality headset maker Osterhout Design Group has come to an end, the epilogue of its demise continues.

After ODG's intellectual property, including patents and trademarks, went up for sale via Hilco Bankstream last month, Heritage Global Partners is handling the auction of ODG's physical assets.

Keep reading to find out what physical assets were included in the ODG auction...

Image via Heritage Global Partners

Vuzix Takes Style Cues from North with New Smartglasses Design

On June 24, a representative for Vuzix shared part of a recent investor presentation with Next Reality. That part of the presentation includes an image of the next, unreleased version of the company's smartglasses, and it looks pretty damn good.

In fact, the smartglasses look about as normal as you can expect when you consider the fact that they contain components for viewing virtual content. The only telltale signs of embedded tech are the slightly thicker than normal arms on the frames (which serve touch interfaces), which will likely be unnoticeable by all but the most studied follower of cutting-edge AR wearables.

Continue reading to learn more about the new Vuzix smartglasses design and how it positions the company against current and future competitors...

Image via Vuzix

Next Reality Takes a Peek Inside Magic Leap's Headquarters

The long guarded veil of mystery surrounding Magic Leap for years was finally lifted last year when the company revealed its Magic Leap One device.

But even now, as the company releases new apps and high profile partnerships, the company itself remains something of a cipher. We can now erase at least a portion of that mystery via images we've obtained of the interiors of Magic Leap's remote Florida headquarters.

Read further to take a visual tour of the secret lair of Magic Leap and learn more about the approach to the design of the space...

Image via Glavovic Studio

Daqri Shuts Down

While the tech industry is hot in pursuit of mainstream smartglasses for consumers, another early maker of enterprise-focused AR hardware has apparently met its end.

Following the fate of ODG and Meta Company, augmented reality hardware maker Daqri has apparently run out of runway and is shutting down. Word around the AR insider campfire is that the company is in the process of selling off its assets after closing its main office and eliminating most of its jobs.

Continue reading to learn more details about Daqri's downward spiral and its implications on the overall AR industry...

Nreal Founder Chi Xu Accused of Trade Secret Theft by Magic Leap

When we first found out about Nreal, back in the spring of 2018, the most interesting thing about the company's story was the founder's background. Chi Xu, the CEO and founder of Nreal, previously worked at Magic Leap as a software engineer.

Earlier this year, when we met Xu a second time in Barcelona, Spain at Mobile World Congress (our first meeting was last year, in Silicon Valley), we asked him why he decided to leave Magic Leap. He declined to answer that question.

Now, as Magic Leap has pointed its legal arsenal at Xu and his company, it looks like at least some of the unanswered questions about Nreal will be answered in court.

Read further for Xu's timeline from higher education to Magic Leap to the founding of Nreal...

Image via Nreal

Snap Launches Proto-AR Smartglasses with Spectacles 3

After teasing what smartglasses powered by Snapchat might look like with two product cycles of camera glasses, Snap has now added augmented reality capabilities to its third take on Spectacles.

On Aug. 13, the company unveiled Spectacles 3, which packs a pair of temple-mounted cameras that can capture 3D images and video, along with an array of four microphones for capturing audio and LED lights to serve as indicators that recording is underway.

Read on for more details on Spectacles 3 and how it serves as the foundation for Snap's future in AR smartglasses...

Apple Preparing AR Devices for 2020

Augmented reality enthusiasts who expected an AR hardware unveiling at Apple's annual iPhone launch event might not have to wait much longer.

On Oct. 9, noted TF Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo published a report that Apple's 2020 hardware lineup will include an iPad Pro with a rear-mounted time of flight sensor and the debut of the company's long-rumored and eagerly-awaited AR headset.

Read further for more details on the AR devices that Kuo expects Apple to launch in 2020...

Magic Leap Puts Up Patents as Loan Collateral, Execs Depart

Is the augmented reality magic fading down in Plantation, Florida? That's the first question some may be asking following a casual revelation over the weekend that Magic Leap, the maker of the Magic Leap One, has assigned much of its patent portfolio over to JP Morgan Chase as collateral.

In documents filed with the US patent office on August 22 and signed on August 20, a massive 1,903 patents from Magic Leap (as well as from Magic Leap holdings Mentor Acquisitions, LLC and Molecular Imprints Inc.) were all assigned to JPMorgan Chase.

Continue reading to find out what the collateral agreement means for the future of Magic Leap, then read further to learn about the executive departures that followed soon after news of the patent portfolio assignment broke...

Every Friday, Next Reality reviews the latest headlines from the financial side of augmented and mixed reality. This weekly Market Reality column covers funding announcements, mergers and acquisitions, market analysis, and the like. Check out previous editions of Market Reality for more news you may have missed.

Cover image via Adario Strange/Next Reality

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