HoloLens 2: Microsoft Brings Mixed Reality as a Service to Market
My fellow columnists have already written extensively about HoloLens 2 here and here, covering the product’s notably better field of view, the addition of eye and gesture tracking, its connection to Azure, and its pole position in the race to the next era of computing. It is a testament to the product that there’s still more to say. Specifically, I’ll cover the leap forward it represents in comfort (and why this is so important), the new hardware customization program, and—perhaps most importantly—the rollout of HoloLens 2 as a service.
Comfort Is Key
When Microsoft launched the first HoloLens, company executives talked a great deal about how they had scanned many, many human heads so they could design and build a headset that was comfortable to wear. After demoing that first headset numerous times, I think it’s safe to say they never scanned a noggin like mine. Regardless of how careful I was in sizing and placing the original headset on my head, within a few minutes, it was sliding forward on my face, making for an uncomfortable fit and imperfect mixed reality experience. HoloLens 2 fixes all that.
In addition to the amazing auto-calibration for pupil distance and retina log-in features, HoloLens 2 is simple to put on and go. Microsoft has shifted the balance of gravity on the device, and while it’s still far from light when you pick it up, it really does seem to float on your head once you’ve put it on. The result in a much more comfortable fit, and one that I didn’t need to constantly readjust once I put it on. The importance of this can’t be understated. Companies are going to be asking employees to put this device on and be productive. The ability to do so quickly, and the fact that it’s much more comfortable over longer periods of time, will go a long way toward encouraging those workers, even the most skeptical ones, that the effort is worthwhile.
Another notable upgrade to HoloLens 2 is the ability to flip up the front of the headset while it’s on your head. This lets the wearer have a conversation with another person without having to a) look through the lenses or b) remove the headset entirely. Microsoft took to heart feedback it received from users of the first product to implement it in the second. This is the type of iterative improvement that delights end users, and it’s the type of thing a vendor can only learn by shipping that first product.
One of the key elements of the HoloLens 2 launch that hasn’t been widely discussed is the rollout of the customization program. While Microsoft designed the HoloLens 2 to suite a wide variety of use cases, the company realizes that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to mixed reality environments. The new customization program allows Microsoft’s customers and partners to create HoloLens 2 products specifically designed for their individual needs. The first product announced as part of the program was the Trimble XR10.
The XR10 integrates the HoloLens headset into a hard hat form factor, geared towards workers in construction, oil and gas, manufacturing, and mining. The company was a launch partner with Microsoft for the original HoloLens, and it has a range of applications including Tekla, SketchUp, Revit, and SysQue designed to work on the platform. Trimble says the RX10 will carry an MSRP of $4,750. That pricing, which is notably higher than the HoloLens 2 base price of $3,500, helps drive home the fact that while some pundits are still complaining about hardware cost, companies that have done the ROI work quickly come to realize the value of these products. I expect we will see additional customized HoloLens products from Microsoft customers and partners going forward.
MR as a Service
Those who read me regularly know I’m big on the concept of Device as a Service, which lets companies bundle hardware, software, and services into a multi-year contract tied to a monthly fee that eliminates the challenges associated with a huge up-front capital outlay. One of the areas where as-a-service has real legs is in the offering of VR, AR, and MR. That’s because most companies are just beginning to explore these areas, and they don’t have existing infrastructure, hardware, software, or, frankly, expertise in the area. As such, I was thrilled when Microsoft announced that in addition to the option to buy HoloLens 2 outright, it would offer the headset as part of an ongoing service.
The offering is called HoloLens 2 with Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, and it costs $125 per user, per month, for a three-year contract. Included in that fee is access to Microsoft’s see-what-I-see Remote Assist application, regular updates, plus enterprise-grade security. I hope to see Microsoft roll out additional as-a-service offerings around HoloLens in the future. In addition to making it easier for customers to get started with mixed reality, it also helps drive the important narrative that the HoloLens is ultimately more powerful when it you connect it to Microsoft’s Azure.
And that’s one of the many reasons why the HoloLens 2 is such an exciting product. With the first version of the product, Microsoft jumped out ahead of much of the industry. As a result, it took its fair share of criticism around things such as field of view, comfort, and cost, despite the fact it clearly labeled V1 a developer product. The company listened to that feedback and took its time in bringing to market the HoloLens 2, and this one is ready for prime time. I look forward to seeing all the new ways companies find to utilize this product, and the interesting new applications developers will create utilizing all the new features and capabilities.