Everyone from Forbes to The Verge pretty much exploded with excitement after Microsoft demonstrated its newest toy last week, the HoloLens. From the looks of things, Microsoft has taken us one step closer to the augmented reality we all expect from watching any sci-fi movies.
But as usually happens, the facts tend to get lost in the hype, so we thought we’d try and clear the air a little around augmented reality’s golden device.
We looked at what it is, how it’s different from competing devices, and what sort of applications might be just around the corner.
What is the HoloLens?
HoloLens is an augmented reality pair of glasses that sit over your eyes and build a digital world on top of the actual one (it ‘augments’ it). This is a new approach for this sort of device for a couple of reasons:
- The HoloLens builds on what actually exists, instead of creating a completely new virtual world
- The HoloLens has transparency, so you can still see what’s going on around you (instead of the bubble-like experience created by Oculus Rift)
- The HoloLens has its own processing power instead of relying on other device integration (in that way, it’s a bit like Google Glass)
So there is some precedence being set by the HoloLens. But the real strength of the HoloLens comes from its ability to map onto your reality, and its amazing demo.
By mapping a digital interface onto a real environment, the HoloLens neatly dispatches with a huge number of objections that people have had in the past to competing devices – namely, that it cuts people off from the world. What’s more, the transparency built into the HoloLens means that that the range of applications is far broader. The best comparison to an existing product is probably Google Glass.
However, the HoloLens isn’t without its criticisms. Forbes contributor Paul Tassi remains skeptical that this is going to be as wonderful as Microsoft says, pointing out that while the demo was pretty slick, that’s not really a great indication of the end-product.
What’s more, he begs the tech world to remember that Microsoft doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to announcing new devices, citing the spectacularly underwhelming Kinect.
That said, the HoloLens demo has been widely received as awesome, with people generally pretty excited for applications to come.
Applications, real and imagined
While HoloLens isn’t quite launched yet, already there are a lot of practical (and not so practical) applications.
This is the most obvious. Following Microsoft’s acquisition of Minecraft, the HoloLens is geared at least partially towards that but really any gaming experience could eventually be mapped through the HoloLens. While a device like the Rift might create a more all-inclusive experience, HoloLens is aiming for an experience that you can touch and feel, since after all, you’re in your living room.
One application (that is explored in the demo) is the ability to quickly and easily create 3D objects. Imagine that you’re designing a building – the HoloLens would let you see what it looks like, right on your desk.
There are a few potential business applications, but for the most part, Microsoft seems content to really push for the living room rather than the board room. That said, engineers may find it useful to realize complex objects in 3D, creative types and developers might benefit from seeing what their creation actually looks like, or just everyday business folk might use it like a HUD to improve productivity. It’s probably not going to revolutionize business, but then again Microsoft doesn’t expect it too – it looks like it’s firmly targeting the home.
The HoloLens has been greeted with its fair share of zeal. And it’s undeniably cool (especially for the low low price of $400 RRP in 2-3 years that Gamespot’s predicting).
Is it going to completely change any one industry? Probably not.
But like the Rift, Google Glass, and Sony’s Project Morpheus, it’s another step towards the augmented reality envisioned by science fiction.