Magic Leap, the once high-flying augmented reality company that crashed to Earth earlier this year, today announced former Microsoft executive VP Peggy Johnson will replace departing CEO Rony Abovitz. Johnson will take the reins on August 1, bringing a “proven track record” of successful partnerships and transactions to the AR company, which is seeking to quickly establish traction in the enterprise market.
A former electrical engineer with the background to deeply understand the technologies she’s overseeing, Johnson has chalked up decades in the industry. Before her six-year stint at Microsoft, where she oversaw business development, she spent 24 years at Qualcomm, holding multiple leadership positions, as well as membership on the company’s executive committee. Prior to that, she worked on military electronics for General Electric. She’s currently on BlackRock’s board of directors, and there’s little question her extensive experience and connections to key hardware and software makers will be an asset to Magic Leap as it struggles to survive its current crisis.
Magic Leap released its first AR headset, Magic Leap 1, as a spatial computing platform, complete with a wearable computer and wireless controller. Initially sold to developers for $2,295, it was rereleased in a largely unchanged consumer version at the same or higher prices. But the headset reportedly sold only in the single-digit thousands, leading the company to kill its consumer business in favor of the smaller, deeper-pocketed enterprise AR market. After securing a temporary funding lifeline, founder and CEO Abovitz announced he would exit the company in favor of an unnamed successor who could steer Magic Leap through turbulent waters.
It’s unclear at this point whether Johnson will continue Magic Leap’s current trajectory of developing its own spatial computing hardware and software or rely more heavily on platforms developed by others. Her recent employer Microsoft has its own competing AR platform, HoloLens, while Qualcomm provides both chips and white-box software platforms for XR hardware. Magic Leap’s reliance on Nvidia’s Tegra X2 for its original headset might have led to the product’s high price and modular nature during a time when other AR developers were gravitating toward smaller and generally more affordable Qualcomm chipsets. Reports have suggested the company’s upcoming Magic Leap 2 may struggle to integrate 5G cellular functionality within a meaningfully smaller form factor — a potentially large impediment as AR applications move outdoors after being largely limited to indoor spaces.