Microsoft has announced that development units of its HoloLens augmented reality (AR) headset will ship to developers on March 30, 2016. Microsoft is providing developers with resources early in a bid to empower them to develop applications that will ultimately strengthen the ecosystem that supports the hardware, and therefore hopefully make it a more enticing proposition upon formal release to enterprises and consumers at a later date.
The success of HoloLens will depend on the strength of the ecosystem that supports the hardware
Microsoft is keen to push HoloLens as a paradigm shift in personal computing. The headset is positioned as one that facilitates what the company terms "mixed reality" in that the company sees it neither as exclusively a virtual reality (VR), nor an AR headset. Terminology aside, HoloLens has potential, but realizing this potential will require more than just hardware – an ecosystem of applications will be vital to its long-term success.
The device can be operated untethered, with this first revision running for two to three hours on a single charge. The unit can also be operated while charging. HoloLens can undertake spatial mapping of an environment and then project holograms onto this environment. Holograms can also be anchored to particular spaces within a spatially mapped area. Capability such as this could be useful in a variety of environments; for example, training providers could use it to create training scenarios that are truly in context within a given environment. The unit can also be operated by people who wear glasses or contact lenses.
The device itself boasts some impressive specifications. At its core is a Windows 10 machine, complemented by an array of sensors, six cameras, and spatial 3D sound speakers. In addition to developer documentation, training videos and development forums have also been made available. Seven programs, or "experiences" as Microsoft terms them, have also been released to help developers build a platform of understanding as to what the device can do. Microsoft has also implemented a physical clicker as an input device that complements the gaze, gesture, and voice interaction already offered by the device. This has been done to aid actions such as scrolling through a webpage or document. However, the real barrier for many may be the cost of the unit, with the developer's edition costing $3000.
HoloLens is a headset that is taking an enterprise-first development and distribution approach. With this strategy in mind, Microsoft is particularly keen to focus on strengthening the device's appeal in the healthcare, manufacturing, public sector, design, retail, and education verticals. The company's rollout of early development units and resources is a bid to create an application ecosystem that better supports these use cases. The exact roadmap for a consumer release is yet to be determined, but Microsoft's approach here is sensible: empower developers early, and create an ecosystem of apps that strengthen the overall value proposition of the device for both enterprise and consumers.
Adam Holtby, Research Analyst, Enterprise Mobility and Productivity Software