Eight months ago, Jeff Gattis stood on the stage in Barcelona at the Mobile World Conference and introduced us to the HTC Vive, a VR headset he was confident would “set the new industry standard” and would ship to consumers by the end of the year. Now he stands in the Magic Leap offices in South Florida, six hours into his first day as the company’s Head of Product Marketing, while the HTC Vive’s consumer headset remains shrouded in mystery.
Gattis joined HTC in July of 2014 as the company’s Executive Director of Global Marketing for the connected products division and headed up a number of projects for the company, the most important of which being the HTC Vive. Since then he has been instrumental in building the Vive’s brand, championing it on its world tour over the past six months. So why would he leave the company right before the launch he promised eight months prior? If you ask him, the decision was “pretty easy.”
In an exclusive interview with UploadVR, Gattis said that his decision came down to two things, the technology’s potential and how close that potential was to being realized.
“I think what struck me so much about Magic Leap was the quality of the technology and seeing how far along it was. I knew there was a great vision but I didn’t know how far along the technology was and how close it is to becoming real and commercial,” he says. “That was the biggest takeaway for me, how it advanced and how quickly it has gotten to the point it is at now.”
One of the things that makes Gattis’ hire as the Director of Product Marketing so interesting is it suggests the company may be getting close to finally pulling back the veil on what they have been working on. Recently, Magic Leap began speaking a little bit more about its technology now that it has moved out of the R&D phase and into the “transitional stage for presenting a new product.” At the WSJD conference in October, Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz said the company is preparing “to ship millions of things,” suggesting that the technology is getting close to productization. Adding further fuel to that fire, reports have surfaced that Magic Leap may be close to closing an additional $1 billion in funding to help bring its technology to market.
“That was the biggest takeaway for me, how it advanced and how quickly it has gotten to the point it is at now.”
HTC on the other hand still claims they are releasing a consumer product in the next six weeks, despite not showcasing the consumer version of its headset publically. The company has been under a fair amount of fire recently for declining smartphone sales and a falling stock price, which have lead to a 15% reduction in HTC’s workforce. Gattis says his decision to leave has “nothing to do with the situation at HTC” and assured us that HTC’s “commitment to VR is very strong” and “they’ve actually pushed more of their eggs into the VR basket.”
Still, the timing of Gattis’ departure raises eyebrows. Gattis, however, isn’t worried about the HTC Vive’s potential, saying “I think they can be successful” with its launch. “I love what they’re doing,” he says, “I love what Oculus is doing for that matter. But I think [Magic Leap] is different and the potential for some of the use casing is broader.”
Gattis believes VR could potentially transform or create “great new forms of entertainment and potentially other markets,” but with Magic Leap’s technology “you start to talk about doing things on a bigger scale.”
“[Magic Leap] is actually going to impact lives and it’s something that we could have with us all the time as we move throughout the world. They talk about replacing screens. This is just from a business standpoint, we’re talking about a huge potential market, and then the application scenarios under that are almost infinite.
Again, I’m just talking about the breadth of the potential for Magic Leap. That’s what excites me. It’s not just about creating a great gaming device, but actually doing something that could potentially change the world.”
Despite an apparent preference for the potential of AR over VR, Gattis sees the two co-existing in the future. Things like gaming and entertainment where users want to “shut [themselves] off from the real world” will carve a place in the market for VR he says, but AR will be a part of your every day life like your smartphone is today. “I think the market for a mixed reality Magic Leap type solution is very broad, potentially everyone.”
“VR is great,” he says, “and I think VR has a lot of different applications but I think when you start to incorporate the real world and the environment around us, it should exponentially increase the potential for the product… this is not just going to change the way people are entertained, this is going to change the way people live and interact with technology.”
So far the only thing the company has shown publically are two videos, one older video that showcased the technology’s potential, and another the company says was shot “directly through Magic Leap technology,” with “no special effects or compositing.”
From my understanding Magic Leap’s technology works like this: a pocket sized computer powers a micro light field projector that mimics the way your eyes see real objects. Breaking this down a bit, when you look at any object what you are seeing isn’t the actual object itself, but rather the various rays of light bouncing off of it creating what is called a light field. Magic Leap’s technology digitally recreates that light field and projects it directly into your eye in a way that is so convincing that people who have tried it have a difficulty resolving what is real and what is artificial. This methodology, the company says, produces a far more comfortable experience compared to other VR and AR displays, while also allowing for a true sense of depth, as opposed to tricking your eyes into seeing depth with stereoscopic rendering.
Other than that the only public accounts of the technology come from MIT Technology Review Editor Rachel Metz, as well as a few hyperbolic compliments from those who have tried it under NDA. In Metz’s review she described an early prototype of the technology as being “what looks like metal scaffolding that towers over my head and contains a bunch of electronics and lenses.” Metz also tried a version of the device with a smaller form factor that “includes a projector, built into a black wire, that’s smaller than a grain of rice and channels light toward a single see-through lens.”
In order for Magic Leap to have poached Gattis, the version of their technology he saw when he first visited Magic Leap six weeks ago likely has advanced beyond what Metz was shown and seems to be a lot closer to commercialization. That alone is an extremely exciting prospect.