Magic Leap has appointed Peggy Johnson, a former Microsoft executive, as its new CEO. Johnson will begin running the company on August 1, replacing current CEO and co-founder of the company, Rony Abovitz. Her appointment is part of the struggling mixed reality venture toward corporate clients and away from consumer entertainment and personal computing.
Johnson was Microsoft’s Executive Vice President of Business Development and the head of the M12 venture capital fund. They told The New York Times that she contacted Abovitz about the job after he announced plans to step down in May. It is not yet clear what role Abovitz will play after the transition, but he has previously said that he will provide “strategy and vision” through Magic Leap’s board of directors.
Johnson, who led Qualcomm’s Internet service department before joining Microsoft in 2014, told it Times that current-generation mixed-reality is comparable to early mobile phone technology or cloud computing. Mixed or augmented reality technology experienced explosive growth in the early and mid-2000s, but in the past few years, many AR companies have shifted or completely closed their focus. Recently, Bose gave up plans for an audio-based mixed reality glasses in June and Google acquired AR startup North for consumers, ignoring plans for second-generation second-generation Focals glasses. Magic Leap cut hundreds of workers earlier this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, although it did Times that it has since secured an investment of $ 375 million (previously reported as $ 350 million) to maintain operations.
Magic Leap still faces many challenges. The company is currently working on a second-generation headset, which follows an impressive but limited first-generation product. And while the pandemic offers new opportunities in areas such as remote working, it has delivered a massive blow to location-based entertainment activities such as amusement parks, once seen as a promising location for mixed reality. Earlier this year, Magic Leap was also forced to indefinitely delay the launch of an ambitious narrative project called The last light after the cancellation of several 2020 film festivals.
However, Microsoft is one of the few big success stories in the industry; since 2015, it has turned its HoloLens headset into a business hardware product. Johnson’s work was not focused on HoloLens, but having an existing business division gave Microsoft a significant advantage, and Johnson’s expertise in that area could help Magic Leap – even if the company’s future remains very uncertain.