Magic Leap's mysterious augmented reality device could put a big focus on music

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Image credit: Magic Leap / Pitchfork

Magic Leap's augmented reality (AR) device is one of those tech enigmas that we hear about every few months but have yet to see, let alone know any real details about. Now there's yet another instance of the secretive device coming into our consciousness, though perhaps not in a way anyone expected.

The Florida-based company invited a reporter from Pitchfork, an online music magazine, to its offices to check out a new mixed reality app created in collaboration with Icelandic band Sigur Rós.

Mixed reality, by the way, is often used as a stand-in term for augmented reality, and essentially describes the blending of virtual objects and items in the real world.

Magic Leap and Sigur Rós have been working on the experience for more than four years. The resulting app is called Tónandi, and it could one day make it to users of the company's device ... whenever it releases. 

The demo lasted about eight to 10 minutes, according to the author, and features new music from the band made for the app. There are fantastical spirit-like creatures that conformed to real-world objects in the demo room, and interacting with certain virtual objects produced different sounds, such as the singer's voice.

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Users of Magic Leap's mysterious device may one day experience Tónandi, shown here, for themselves | Credit: Magic Leap / Pitchfork
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A look at Tónandi, which blends the real and virtual worlds | Credit: Magic Leap / Pitchfork

Picking out the details

Though a non-disclosure agreement prohibits the author from sharing details about the Magic Leap device, we can glean a few clues about the hardware.

For one, the author wears headphones, suggesting some are built-in or are a separate accessory one needs to slip on (which could always change by the time Magic Leap's product releases).

Secondly, the set-up responds to hand gestures. There's no mention of gloves, controllers or external trackers, though of course these may be involved. Regardless, it's encouraging to know Magic Leap has worked to incorporate users' hands in the experience, an inclusion we've often said increases the feeling of immersion in AR and VR.

But while there is gesture recognition, the author wasn't able to control virtual objects in the app with his hands. Instead, he could, for example, influence the digital realm by causing waveforms to change shape. The sound responded accordingly.

There are a few knocks against Magic Leap's hardware in its current form. While what the author sees through the goggles "looks amazing," a narrow field of view means he could still see "unmixed reality" in his periphery. This is akin to the experience we've had looking through Microsoft's HoloLens AR viewer.

The kit also appears to be connected to a battery pack due to its heavy power draw. This is also no surprise; earlier this year, a purported photo leak of a Magic Leap prototype device revealed a user holding a large battery pack in their hand. The rest of the components were housed in a backpack-sized case.

While it still sounds like there's a ways to go before Magic Leap's device is ready for the public, the app appears to be in near-release form. With content lining up, Magic Leap could be inching closer to a product reveal, an event which was rumored to be mere months away as of October this year.

Musical leanings

Given the collaboration with Sigur Rós and the fact Magic Leap invited a music reporter to check out its hardware and app, it seems fair to think that music will be a major area of focus for Magic Leap's device. 

Company founder Rony Abovitz speaks with excitement about music and artistic creation in Pitchfork's piece – "What if you had the entire world as your album cover?" he says at one point – and members of Sigur Rós imagine albums of the future could see mixed reality releases.

Music is a niche where Magic Leap's device could find success, especially if it's as playful and well executed as Tónandi appears to be. However, earlier glimpses released by Magic Leap suggest we'll see plenty of other uses. The video below, for example, shows a morning routine carried out with the help of mixed reality.

All of these are tantalizing ways to think about using Magic Leap's device, but the truth is there has yet to be a product announced, and it's unclear when that will happen. 

Reports have suggested Magic Leap may have oversold what its device can do, though today's report is encouraging in that something exciting is in development.

Now, it's a matter of Magic Leap delivering on the hype. With everyday devices like the iPhone X dabbling in AR, the clock may be ticking on a product that offers enough of something different at a reasonable price point for users to take notice.