iFixit’s Magic Leap teardown features super precise engineering and tiny projectors

Augmented reality company Magic Leap released a “creator edition” of its ambitious, hugely hyped headset earlier this month. Today, iFixit published its teardown of the device, featuring a concrete look at technology that Magic Leap discusses in very abstract terms.

As we’ve previously discussed, the Magic Leap One Creator Edition uses a combination of waveguide lenses and tracking cameras to project hologram-like objects into your real environment. iFixit actually goes to the trouble (and it does have a lot of trouble with parts of this hard-to-repair device) of pulling out the multilayered waveguide and the little projector that shoots light through it. It also spells out the details of things like the controller’s magnetic tracking, which isn’t revelatory but also isn’t something Magic Leap spends a lot of time explaining.

The teardown reflects the basic impression we’ve had of Magic Leap: it’s an interesting device with some serious compromises. iFixit suggests that the magnetic sensor coil’s placement will make it less reliable for left-handed use. (I’ve used it in both left and right hands without noticing this, but I’ve only had a short demo.) Magic Leap’s headset is permanently wired to a wearable computer, and iFixit confirms that if you break that single cable, replacing it will take some work.

Unlike a lot of iFixit’s teardown subjects, the Magic Leap One isn’t a mass-market product; it’s aimed at developers and other people who are more interested in Magic Leap’s platform. But since it costs $2,295, laying out repair options is genuinely helpful — and for the rest of us, it’s a fun read.

The Magic Leap One mixed reality headset is shipping today for $2,295

The Magic Leap One Creator Edition, the first mixed reality headset from startup Magic Leap, is shipping today in “select areas” in the United States for $2,295. The Creator Edition isn’t quite a development kit — Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz calls it a “full-blown, working consumer-grade product,” and AT&T has said it will show demos at some stores. But it’s primarily aimed at artists and app developers, who can try a limited suite of experiences and develop their own apps for the Magic Leap World store.

Would-be buyers can go to Magic Leap’s website and search for their zip code. If Magic Leap is operating in the area, the company will deliver the Magic Leap One for free, complete with help setting the system up and fitting the headset. If it’s not, people can sign up for a waitlist. Buyers can add an optional $495 “professional development package” that includes a system for replacing the device within 24 hours if it breaks.

As Magic Leap has previously revealed, the Magic Leap One is a three-part device consisting of glasses called Lightwear, a wearable computer called the Lightpack, and a handheld controller. The Lightwear uses a combination of tracking cameras and a lens called a “photonics chip” to project images over the real world, while the Lightpack features an Nvidia Tegra X2 mobile chipset, 8GB of memory, 128GB of storage, and a battery that’s supposed to provide up to 3 hours of continuous use and charges over USB-C. There’s a headphone jack, but by default, the Magic Leap One uses small speakers built into the sides of the headset.

While Magic Leap has signed a deal with AT&T for mobile data service in the future, the Magic Leap One only features Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, and it’s meant for indoor use, although Abovitz says it can work “under certain conditions” outdoors. It comes with a suite of apps intended to be used indoors: there’s a web browser called Helio; a “social suite” that includes a virtual chat system; apps for placing virtual objects and screens; and a working demo of Dr. Grordbort’s Invaders, a game similar to a concept video it produced with special effects studio Weta Workshop in 2015.

The Magic Leap World store will also include an art tool called Create, a preview of an NBA app, and the musical Sigur Ros collaboration Tonandi. And developers can get access to source code and assets from Magic Leap experiences, to help in their own work. Magic Leap already runs a portal for developers with tutorials and a software development kit.

We previewed the Magic Leap One before release, and it seems like an ambitious and well-built piece of hardware that’s still held back by technical limitations. The design is a lot more comfortable than it looks, especially because it comes in two sizing options with several different forehead and nose rests to change the angle and distance of the lenses. (While you can’t wear glasses with it, you can order prescription lens insets that clip onto the inside of the goggles.)

But the Magic Leap One’s 50-degree diagonal field of view, while larger than the competing Microsoft HoloLens, is still extremely limited. And the image quality feels roughly on par with the two-year-old HoloLens. It’s generally good, but with some tracking and transparency issues. Given how much effort Magic Leap has apparently put into cultivating internal creative teams and outside partners, we were also disappointed at the lack of substantial experiences from them. But that last thing, at least, isn’t a major issue for developers right now — since they can now buy Magic Leap’s hardware and start testing their own stuff.