Google's Magic Leap may have one big advantage over Microsoft's HoloLens

Both Microsoft and Google are trying to replace your computer, your tablet, and your smartphone with the next step in personal computing: augmented reality.

In the future — so the idea goes — you’ll interact with your digital life seamlessly in reality. Everything from email to video games to navigation will simply be overlaid into the world around you using sunglass-like shades that provide the functionality of your computer/smartphone/tablet/etc. 

But that’s still in “the future.” What we’ve got right now is Microsoft’s HoloLens and Google-backed Magic Leap. This is HoloLens:

This is Magic Leap:

They both look pretty great, right? Agreed.

But there’s one major problem with HoloLens, and it’s something we’ve written about before: field of view. Bear with me, because this is important! The normal human’s field of view — the width of what you can see with your eyes, peripheral vision and all — is around 180-degrees. That’s really wide comparatively with computer-based headsets like HoloLens. In fact, using HoloLens, you only see the system’s augmented reality through a small window. This is my best approximation of the window, having used it several times now:

When you use HoloLens, you only see an augmented reality through that (tiny) window. The rest of your view is normal ol’ life.

That’s a huge difference from what you see in Microsoft’s demonstrations, which aren’t seen from the point of view of the user, but from the point of view of a custom camera that’s able to show what the viewer is seeing without the limitations they’re experiencing. 

But Google-backed Magic Leap — and its yet-to-be-seen headset — promises all the augmented reality of HoloLens with none of the field of view limitations. Though Magic Leap hasn’t explained exactly how its headset works just yet, the MIT Technology Review got to check it out back in February. Here’s how MIT Technology Review writer Rachel Metz described how it works back then:

It’s safe to say Magic Leap has a tiny projector that shines light onto a transparent lens, which deflects the light onto the retina. That pattern of light blends in so well with the light you’re receiving from the real world that to your visual cortex, artificial objects are nearly indistinguishable from actual objects.

And what’s the benefit of projecting light directly into a user’s eye? No discernible field of view limitation! Though we’ll have to confirm ourselves when we eventually get to try the headset, it sounds like the field of view for Magic Leap’s headset will be limited only by your eyes’ own limitations. Thankfully, we’ll find out sooner than later, as Magic Leap says it’s “not far” from making its magical product a reality.

We asked Magic Leap for more information, but have yet to hear back as of publishing.

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