Commentary

Microsoft's HaloLens 2 Headset Means Business

With aspirations to change the way work gets done, Microsoft yesterday unveiled its HoloLens 2 augmented reality headset at the Mobile World Congress, the telecom industry’s premier trade show, in Barcelona. Available for pre-order, the product will ship later this year.

The first iteration of HoloLens “didn’t exactly light the world on fire when it launched four years ago,” writes Caitlin McGarry for Tom’s Guide. “The $5,000 wearable, which marries augmented and virtual realities, was too big. Too expensive. Too limited in what it could do. The technology was compelling -- and still is -- but the actual device needed work. So Microsoft is giving its vision another shot with HoloLens 2, a $3,500 hand-tracking headset designed for work, not home.”

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Indeed, “Microsoft’s Hype Strategy for HoloLens Is to Avoid It,” reads the headline in the Wall Street Journal. “As tech giants race to dominate the field, the company’s plan is to focus on work, not play,” the subhed elaborates.

CEO Satya Nadella “introduced HoloLens 2, which is lighter and more comfortable to wear than the first version, and gives users more than twice the field of view on which holograms can be seen, the company said. He didn’t, though, unveil any games or apps people can use in their homes. Those might capture people’s imagination, but Microsoft doesn’t believe they will generate significant sales,” writes Jay Greene in that WSJ piece.

“I’m just not hearing that people desperately need another way to be entertained right now. We’re not investing in hype,” Lorraine Bardeen, general manager of engineering for Microsoft’s augmented-reality applications, tells Greene.

“The new headset is sleeker-looking, more comfortable, and more powerful than the first generation," writes Raymond Wong for Mashable. “But most importantly, HoloLens 2 has a much wider field of view -- more than double the original HoloLens -- to enable more immersive mixed reality experiences.”

CNET’s Scott Stein describes that experience after having been handed a headset at Microsoft’s headquarters and being told he’s going to learn how to fix a bicycle.

“The best way I can describe it is like Google Maps' turn-by-turn directions for real world instructions -- or like a floating Lego manual for reality. I move my eyes over each step-by-step card that floats in the air in front of me. I'm told to put the bike into neutral. Now, a floating arrow arcs through 3D space to show me the gearshift on the bike and where I should move it. I do it. I move my eyes to the next step.” And so on.

Stein’s lengthy piece ends with some wistful musing about how powerful HaloLens and other 3D devices will be when 5G takes hold (not to mention 6G, whatever that is.)

“Perhaps most significantly, Microsoft on Sunday also promised that it was committed to openness in the ‘core principles’ of its mixed reality efforts. Specifically, this means that Microsoft’s hardware would work with the software of other companies and that other developers could create their own app stores for the HoloLens -- stores where Microsoft presumably wouldn’t get a cut of every sale,” writes Aaron Pressman for Fortune.

Indeed, you’ll see someone pointing an Apple iPad during the 16:12 demo at the MWC yesterday, which CNET has posted. (Not that the two haven’t gotten along, from time to time, before.)

“The company demonstrated a variety of possible workplace uses across a range of industries. One demonstration featured a creative team for a toy company collaborating in real time in a virtual conference room. Other demonstrations showed auto manufacturing, industrial equipment repair and medical procedures that were all aided by the augmented reality technology,” Heather Kelly reports for CNN Business, pointing out that Microsoft is already partnering with a number of large companies including Saab, Airbus and Honeywell.

“Microsoft will allow businesses to customize HoloLens 2 before purchasing a fleet of headsets. Trimble, the owner of 3D modeling package SketchUp, has already modified the headset so that it can be worn like a hard hat in construction sites and other potentially dangerous locations, writes Nick Summers for Engadget.

It “also teased ‘true collaborative computing’ with a workplace application called Spatial. Anand Agarawala, co-founder and CEO of Spatial, showed off a virtual whiteboard where multiple people could chat and share ideas. It was similar to Oculus Rooms, but more sticky notes and fewer mini-games,” Summers also reports.

Now if it could only eliminate office politics and oneupmanship.

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