Is Microsoft’s HoloLens All That Was Promised?

When Microsoft revealed it’s HoloLens at a 2015 TED Talk the company was incredibly upbeat about the potential of the device. During the presentation Microsoft spoke about how HoloLens would revolutionize the way professionals dealt with 3D design and how consumers would be bale to immerse themselves in a seamless experience of everyday objects that would be augmented by a virtual holographic interface for added functionality, access to information and the promise of becoming a part of a brave new world of holographic promise.

Microsoft-Hololens

By Microsoft Sweden [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

However, has Microsoft delivered on this promise?

The HoloLens, begins shipping as a ‘Development Edition’ at the end of March 2016 to developers in Canada and the United States at a price of US$3,000. It’s interesting to note that both Samsung and Asus have expressed interest in developing applications for use with the HoloLens.

The unit is what Microsoft likes to call its key to a ‘Mixed Reality’ experience. In essence this means that Microsoft believes that the HoloLens holds the key to interacting with the real world through an ‘overlay’ of virtual elements.

In essence, if the HoloLens reaches its promised functionality then you would be able to use any Windows applications to augment your everyday experience. There is also the promise of a dedicated ‘Windows Holographic Platform API’s’ which is supported through the Windows 10 operating system.

Looking at the HoloLens headset what you are actually seeing is a completely self contained PC running the Windows 10 operating system. The headset contains extremely advanced motion sensor technology, as well as a 3D head mounted display. The ‘Holographic’ experience is controlled by the user via voice, sight and hand motions.

Hololens

HoloLens By Microsoft Sweden [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The headset can be adjusted to fit the individual user and also features a set of speakers, one on either side. These are designed to allow ambient sound to be heard, along with the sound supplied within the holographic experience.

What is perhaps most impressive about the HoloLens is the fact that Microsoft, although releasing a developers version only now has already produced a number of applications that are ready for use. These applications include a 3D modelling app which is also compatible with a 3D printer – a potentially exciting development for those involved in modelling. Microsoft also has a number of games ready to play, as well as a virtual tourism application. Architectural applications are also in the release pipeline.

However the HoloLens is not without its detractors. In a recent Fortune article a journalist described the Hololens experience as ‘Not fluid’ and that it was ‘hard to forget that the projections were just that’.

The question that should be asked is whether that experience is symptomatic of the limitations of the HoloLens itself or whether that reporter had simply experienced applications that were not as polished as might be expected when they come from the developers of the HoloLens itself?

With the HoloLens, Microsoft has clearly revealed what it believes to be the future of the human – machine interface and the concept of the ‘holographic’ overlay is an exciting one. However, there are limitations – the HoloLens is too bulky to be worn all the time so it’s not going to be a ’24hr’ completely immersive experience as was the hope with products like Google Glass.

However, even if HoloLens delivers on the promise of immersion in tourism, exploration, gaming and design that will assure it of a following that is sure to grow exponentially.

Of course this is all dependent on the price point at which the units reach the public, at US$3,000 (as per the developers unit) there may not be many takers.