This AR laptop startup offers a reason to use mixed reality at work

Founded by Magic Leap alums, Sightful is focused on creating a “daily use case” for AR.
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4 min read

The maker of a new laptop device is trying to expand the size of your computer screen by ditching the monitor display altogether.

The startup Sightful, which announced itself last week with $61 million in initial funding, is rolling out what it bills as the world’s first augmented reality (AR) laptop of its kind.

The $2,000 Spacetop device is essentially the lower half of a laptop with a mounted webcam and a pair of glasses attached by a cord through which users can see a 100-inch projection of a workspace screen.

Sightful’s co-founders said the goal is to establish a natural daily use case for AR technology at a time when data shows that people generally don’t yet see a need for such extra dimensionality at work. The setup is designed to expand the workspace display with relatively compact hardware for the segments of the workforce that have remained largely remote since the onset of the pandemic.

“The reason people are not using AR and VR is because there’s no reason for them to use it,” Sightful CEO and co-founder Tamir Berliner said.

As alums of AR headset maker Magic Leap, co-founders Berliner and COO Tomer Kahan know a thing or two about the difficulties of establishing use cases for AR. That startup rode an earlier hype wave around the technology only to lose momentum amid years of production delays before pivoting to a narrower enterprise focus.

Berliner said one lesson from that experience was to focus on built-in utility and ease of use above all else, rather than relying on third-party developers and creators to create an ecosystem of apps that would then attract users.

“We’re not looking for [app creators] to tell us how people will use our product. We design a product, and we’re looking for them to say how they want to take it further,” Berliner said. “And hopefully, we will be able to also give them an install base of people who are actually using the product on a daily basis. Because at the end of the day, if you’re a software provider or if you’re a creator, you want to be able to ship your software to people who would actually use it on a daily basis.”

Sightful has focused on developing its product for the past couple years with user testing sessions throughout the process. For instance, an earlier prototype of the product had the glasses connected through a side port on the device, but it was moved to the center after a tester’s arm caught on the cord while reaching for a coffee and the headset went flying.

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Part of that focus on usability meant telling the company’s product designers “don’t trust your intuition,” Berliner said.

“Because when you design a product, it’s always, ‘Oh, I think that that will work well.’ And then if you only test it when you ship the product to market, that’s way too late,” Berliner said.

True to the company’s claims, the Spacetop’s interface was indeed intuitive to use when I had a chance to try it out, especially compared to some other VR/AR devices that require a bit more mastery of the controls. The headset was comfortable for the few minutes I wore it, though working on the device for any longer than that might take some getting used to, especially for an eight-hour workday (the battery life is billed as at least five hours).

Overall, the company’s emphasis on meeting users where they are and its effort to avoid imposing any new behaviors shone through in the experience—it didn’t feel all that much different from using any other laptop.

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Much of the technology at play in the device has only evolved to viability in the past few years, according to Berliner. Glasses that could display pixels at the required density and brightness didn’t exist until around three years ago, he said, and the computer vision and processing power—the laptop uses a Qualcomm chip—needed to situate the virtual screen in place are also recent advances. The device runs on a version of Android customized to the particular use cases.

“It was only two-and-a-half years ago when we looked at [the technology] and I said, ‘OK, this is actually good enough,’” Berliner said. “We thought we would actually have to wait a bit longer.”

Berliner eventually imagines developers using the laptop and AR devices in general for more immersive experiences, like interactive cooking tutorials or MasterClass-style lectures.

“Those things, in 10 years, are going to become everyday in our lives,” he said. “But for those to actually happen, we need people to be using AR technology.”

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