As Magic Leap finally ships to developers, Lytro closes the doors on an incredible product and the company that developed it. The question we’re asking ourselves is, why can some companies survive on the promise of experimental tech, while others can’t weather the storm?
There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the technology Lytro was championing is going to go far. Light field technology is an incredibly exciting possibility in the world of both VR and AR, and that’s supported by a number of companies. Google has recently announced that they’re spending a lot of cash investigating the possibilities for light field, while commercial outfits like Raytrix are selling the hardware directly to creators.
The problem is that it isn’t ready for primetime. The technology is the future, but it isn’t the present. Hammer & Tusk discovered that when we partnered with Lytro to create a fencing video highlighting work we were doing with the International Fencing Federation. The swords are so slim and move so quickly that light field cameras couldn’t pick them up. Despite amazing work on both sides of the table, the project was eventually scrapped, and we went ahead with a 360 video instead.
Funding is the hardest part of starting any new company, and finding funders who are willing to play the long game is challenging. Google’s deep pockets mean it can champion technology that isn’t quite ready yet, allowing them the flexibility and breathing room to take it slowly across the finish line.
It’s fascinating to watch a similar story play out with Magic Leap, who by all rights shouldn’t have had access to those same deep pockets. But unlike Lytro, Magic Leap was able to enchant enough investors that they stayed afloat through multiple scandals and technological missteps. Some of that was slight of hand, but some of it was good old fashioned razzle dazzle.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always matter how strong your tech is. It matters how strong your game is.
Written by Wren Handman for www.hammerandtusk.com.