The Amazing HoloLens Leap

As a grizzled tech industry veteran, it takes a lot to really make me feel like something is dramatically new and different. In other words, I’ve seen lots and lots of evolutions, but not really that many revolutions.

Yesterday, I experienced a revolution: the Microsoft HoloLens is unlike anything you’ve ever used.

For now unfortunately, you’re going to have to take my word for it, because, more than any tech product I’ve seen or tried in quite awhile, you really have to experience the HoloLens first hand to appreciate it.

Luckily for me, I’ve actually been able to try the HoloLens twice—at the product’s initial unveiling in late January and at Microsoft’s Build conference in San Francisco yesterday. During that three month gap, the company has made enormous progress. The first demo consisted of a development system made up of multiple parts: a big box holding the computing elements that went on a cord around the neck, a long cord tethered to a large workstation-looking PC, and the goggle-like head-mounted display. Yesterday’s demo on the other hand consisted of nothing but the untethered, slick-looking head-mounted unit that’s supposed to be representative of what the final shipping product will look like.

Just to see that transition was impressive. Even though Microsoft showed one final looking unit at the launch event in January, I still had serious doubts about how long it would take to get them to reduce what I wore in January to the portable, battery-powered device I wore yesterday.

More importantly, the product’s capabilities and overall functions continues to impress. Whenever you try out something that’s very new, there’s always a tendency to overemphasize how great or different it is. As a result, I was very curious to see how I would feel about using the HoloLens for the second time. I have to say, if anything, I walked away more impressed.

Part of that may be because the company has come up with several more impressive demos. In particular, the demonstration of an architectural program, where you can manipulate elements of a building design and see it in the context of an architectural model, really gave me a sense of how innovative the HoloLens can be. To be fair, it also gave me the sense HoloLens will initially probably have more focused applications and may not be for everyone. Still, being able to adjust the roof of a 3D model by moving the mouse from a PC screen over to the “hologram” of the rendered building and then adjust it, all the while being able to see the physical model of the existing buildings in the area surrounding the one you were designing, was really impressive.[pullquote]It’s a rare, but incredibly cool feeling when science fiction comes to life right in front of your eyes, and with the HoloLens, that’s exactly what Microsoft has managed to achieve. “[/pullquote]

For me, this demo also served as a great example of why augmented reality products, such as the HoloLens, are likely to be much more successful than virtual reality products, which completely take over your field of vision with a computer display. Being able to see the real world helps avoid the seasick-like feelings many people (including me) feel when trying on virtual reality headsets like the Oculus VR. Augmented reality also provides the ability to perform productive tasks, as opposed to just experiencing a computer-generated world through VR. Certainly for gaming and entertainment applications, there are a few compelling VR applications but, even so, I expect the options with augmented reality will prove to be more attractive to a larger audience.

To that end, the software support for HoloLens has also made important advancements. The ability to do things like pin a video player or Skype window onto a wall in a room around you starts to hint at some of the many interesting possibilities Microsoft could enable with HoloLens.

There are still a number of very important questions to answer with regard to HoloLens—not the least of which are price, availability, battery life, and software compatibility. Yet, I think the experience is so compelling that even limitations or concerns in these areas won’t limit the device’s appeal.

It’s a rare, but incredibly cool feeling when science fiction comes to life right in front of your eyes, and with HoloLens, that’s exactly what Microsoft has managed to achieve. Well done.

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Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

12 thoughts on “The Amazing HoloLens Leap”

  1. I’m a bit doubtful, surely because I haven’t seen the product. From afar, the first impression is “nice demo”. 3D TV, whatever they call the thing were your stick a screen/phone in your face for gaming, the Leap Motion gesture mouse, and even Google Glass, also drew enthusiastic first responses, but kinda flopped, at least for now. There’s potential, but anything that 1- requires wearing a disfiguring/isolating apparatus 2- requires a lot of disruption of existing workflows 3- is very costly, faces a long uphill battle. Especially when the product is deemed so revolutionary than specific use cases are glossed over.

    1. I completely understand your skepticism…as I said, you really need to try it to understand it. Also, as I pointed out, I think initially this will be a more focused product for some specific applications. Still, it’s an impressive product and I think it adds a “halo” (pardon the near pun!) to Microsoft over all…

  2. I remain sceptical since I have not used the HoloLens. I am also sceptical because I know how annoying it is to try on focus on something real while having something “virtual” project into my field of vision. It’s like trying to use a pair of glasses with visible writing etched across the lens. This isn’t like a heads up display where the user can focus in front of or behind the projected display. With augmented reality, the display is ALWAYS in focus.

    1. As I mentioned in my other comment, I do understand your skepticism…again, you really need to try it to understand. But, what I can say is, you really can easily see and meld the real world and the augmented world with HoloLens…plus, there are times when there’s nothing in the display at all (if you so choose). As with any of these products, it’s not something you’re going to use all day…it’ll be used for short periods I think, but it will be incredibly useful for those segments of time for certain types of users (and applications).

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