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A critical look at HoloLens and the future of Windows Mixed Reality

Microsoft revealed HoloLens a couple of years ago now to shock and awe, as the company showed the world its vision for a hologrammatic future. HoloLens is a completely wireless headset, powered by Intel Atom, allowing you to view and place 3D objects in the physical world.

We've all seen the tech demos, but experiencing HoloLens first hand is a hugely different experience. Here are some of my early impressions and critical feedback, as well as where I think Microsoft needs to set its focus for upcoming versions.

HoloLens Developer Edition impressions and features

I am using the HoloLens development kit, which wasn't intended for consumers. This is wholly designed to demonstrate what Windows Mixed Reality will be capable of, complete with spatial sound, environment scanning cameras, and holographic spaces.

There are some clear and obvious limitations present in HoloLens, purely by virtue of what modern technology is capable of, but the intentions are clear, and the kit is more than adequate for developers to test their applications.

Out of all the modern head mounted displays (HMDs) I've used, HoloLens is the most convenient and the most comfortable. Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are bulky, and PlayStation VR (PSVR) is stuffy with lenses that are prone to steaming up. And of course, all of those require tethering cables. HoloLens is battery-powered.

It might seem counter-productive to compare HoloLens to headsets designed for virtual reality (VR), rather than AR, but you can only wear one HMD at a time, and it's not like functionality should come at the cost of comfort. None of these experiences particularly make wearing something on your face pleasant or natural (and that will always be a problem), but HoloLens is among the best of the bunch.

Out of all the modern head mounted displays I've used, HoloLens is the most convenient and the most comfortable.

It's incredibly lightweight, considering it's effectively an Intel PC for your head. It can be set up to rest on your head like a crown, with a dial that adjusts the tension with tiny increments. There's also an included strap to go over the top of your head if you're playing games and have concerns it might fall off.

HoloLens has a nose rest that's fairly comfortable, allowing you to position the main lenses in front of your eyes. As a glasses wearer, I was impressed at how the nose rest was able to accommodate my glasses, but my frames are quite small and thin. (If you wear big hipster glasses like one of our editors, Richard Devine, you might have a problem.)

There are speaker strips on either side that provide spatial audio. You might imagine precise sound cues are important for experiencing content in a 3D space, and HoloLens provides that function extremely well. Playing Roboraid, I was able to hear robots as they zoomed past my head, and feel projectiles as I dodged them. Sound plays a big part in Windows Mixed Reality, and HoloLens delivers.

The headset itself has controls for brightness on the left side, and volume on the right, with a power button in the back. It's running a stripped-down version of Windows designed purely for holograms and the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), and despite its small size, you'll get around two to four hours of battery life depending on how hard you push it.

Out of the box, HoloLens will run you through a tutorial of its controls and gestures. The cursor is controlled by your gaze, directly in the center of wherever you're looking, and you can "click" and "drag" using your finger in front of the HoloLens camera array. An open hand gesture will also initiate the HoloLens start menu wherever you're looking, and it helps you to exit out of resource-exclusive apps.

For developers, the HoloLens Developer Edition can be connected up to a PC using the HoloLens UWP app. From the app, you can view a direct feed of the device's cameras and its holograms, and you can do things like sideload apps and deploy code for testing.

How well does HoloLens actually run all those holograms though? Pretty damn well, actually.

A world window of holograms

When viewing the holographic environment through the HoloLens developer portal on a PC, you realize the true potential of Windows in 3D. You can place 100-inch Netflix screens or several Windows of all types side by side, and view and manipulate complex 3D objects, ideal for studying.

The problem is the tiny letterbox HoloLens gives you to view its holograms. The field of view is, by far HoloLens's biggest physical limitation at present, and it'll doubtless be something the company is looking to fix in the next version of the headset, rumored to be targeting a 2019 release.

The field of view is, by far HoloLens's biggest physical limitation at present, and it'll doubtless be something the company is looking to fix.

The letterbox effect combined with the developer portal might make HoloLens an adequate tool for testing 3D apps (which is what HoloLens is designed for), but as a consumer, the limited field of view is frustrating at best, disorienting at worst. If HoloLens ever comes to market for regular PC users, fixing the field of view should be a top priority.

I'm impressed at how intuitive using HoloLens is, though. I picked it up in mere minutes, perhaps in part, due to my familiarity with Kinect. The tracking technology and spatial awareness are similar, but HoloLens is more precise, as the cursor tracks the position of the headset rather than the position of your hand or finger. It's still nowhere near as precise as using a mouse, however, and while you can pair a Bluetooth mouse to HoloLens, the shell doesn't support it. Only certain apps like remote desktop will work.

There are a few really great apps for HoloLens. Roboraid (opens in new tab) provides a stellar example of what sort of games will be possible with the tech, while Actiongram (opens in new tab) shows off how 3D objects can be used to create fun social videos. Galaxy Explorer (opens in new tab) is also tremendous, and it demonstrates HoloLens's potential use in educational scenarios.

Beyond HoloLens-specific apps, you also have access to dozens of UWP apps such as MyTube and Office Mobile, making HoloLens a capable PC solution. Pair a keyboard and you'll be able to word process and browse the web with relative ease. If they fix the field of view issues, it could make you a multi-tasking god, owing to screen space limited only by physical space available.

As fun as HoloLens is to use, however, I have fundamental reservations about the technology.

The holographic elephant in the room

There are a few reasons why I don't think Windows Mixed Reality is going to take off as a platform, and they owe to Microsoft's general inability to court devs. And the simple fact that I don't think people actually enjoy having something strapped to their faces, for VR or otherwise.

There are scenarios where HoloLens solves genuine problems, such as in medical education or engineering. Having realistic 3D models is generally going to be cheaper, over time, than utilizing the real thing. Also, there is potential for training people remotely using 3D animations that can be viewed from multiple angles, and even traversing the terrain of Mars, as seen with how NASA is utilizing the tech. These are places where HoloLens might succeed, but another company is threatening to kill Windows Mixed Reality before it even gets going.

Acer's Windows Mixed Reality dev kit.

Acer's Windows Mixed Reality dev kit.

Apple's AR Kit will be available not to thousands of HMD dev kit owners but millions of iPhone owners. For educational applications, sure, nobody is going to want to hold up their smartphone as a lens, but for "fun" apps like Actiongram, and small utility apps like this measuring app below, an iPhone will work just as well, if not better, than a HMD. But that's not the real reason Apple is putting AR onto iOS. It's to act as a bridge.

Apple seems to understand far better than Microsoft how to court developer interest from scratch. I've written before how Windows 10 Mobile should've been a bridge to the future rather than being ditched, and I think with AR potentially rolling up as the next paradigm shift, Redmond could realize that abandoning its phone platform could prove to be an even bigger mistake than Windows Vista.

Apple's AR Kit for iOS could beat Microsoft to mass market holograms.

Microsoft has previously demonstrated 3D scanning app concepts on an HP Elite x3, which shows that the company at least understands how phones could be used to bridge the divide between mobile computing solutions and AR. However, we've heard HoloLens inventor Alex Kipman describe the smartphone as "dead," and it's this strange Ballmer-like arrogance towards mobile that could be Windows Mixed Reality's undoing.

Yes, HoloLens is potentially far more powerful than a smartphone, but without developers to make apps, it won't find much traction outside of niche uses and education. Perhaps that was Microsoft's goal all along, but for Kipman to say "smartphones are dead" seems to indicate to me that they expect AR solutions like HoloLens to be a big consumer platform in the future. But without those devs, there won't be any apps that consumers want, and without those consumers, there won't be any devs. You'd think after Windows Phone, Microsoft would know this more than most companies.

Microsoft has failed to deliver any sort of meaningful traction for UWP even with the hundreds of millions of computers running Windows 10 today due to competition from the web, and legacy platforms like Win32. Windows Phone struggled to compete against the maturity of Android and iOS, but there were still millions of Windows Phone users that could have served as eyeballs for a fledgling AR platform, utilizing Lumia cameras, rather than HoloLens cameras.

[Windows Mixed Reality] seems doomed to failure due to Microsoft's noncommittal attitude towards its own products.

AR apps could have been the unique selling point Windows Phone needed to differentiate itself from Android and iOS, while allowing Microsoft to build a grassroots developer community for those who shared Microsoft's vision for a holographic future. Sadly, Microsoft screwed it all up, and let its mobile platform die.

Part of me wonders if Microsoft dumped mobile because it thinks everyone will flock to strap a headset onto their faces rather than use something in their palm. I hope not because Microsoft is crazy if it thinks HMDs will replace phones.

HoloLens feels like Kinect, it feels like Microsoft Band, and it feels like Windows 10 Mobile. It is amazing, and sci-fi in some ways, flawed in others, and like those other devices, it seems doomed to failure due to Microsoft's noncommittal attitude towards its own products and inability to build up developer support. But I hope I'm wrong.

Holographic hope?

There are some incredible projects being built for HoloLens. And like I mentioned earlier, there are some educational scenarios where HoloLens really shines as the best and only solution. There's a whole world of untapped possibilities for this sort of paradigm, and I feel as though Minority Report-style holographic interfaces truly are the future. It's just hard to envision Microsoft being a serious player in that space given how slow to react Redmond seems to be.

I hope Microsoft proves me wrong because HoloLens is a vivid, immersive experience. Without the letterbox viewing angle, being able to position Windows apps anywhere in your physical space is liberating and magical. But I'm rarely able to use HoloLens for long periods of time without needing an app on my phone, or the precision and power of a real Windows PC.

I'm just not sure where a limited selection of UWP holograms fits in to my daily routine. And if the smartphone is "dead," Microsoft needs to answer that question before holograms hit consumers.

Jez Corden
Jez Corden

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • No it will never be a mainstream device in it's current state.  poor design,  and high cost would kill any chance it would have.   it needs to be a pair of glasses with no indication that those glasses have holo built in.  if not.  don't bother.
  • The current state really is not meant to be a consumer device! And the design is not bad at all. You may critsise MS for not providing a consumer device. But criticising a Dev kit is not right at all.  It is the only device in the world which can do all those thing. Every other device lacks one or the other thing;")
  • That's pretty unrealistic for today's consumer technology. Google glasses was the closest thing to what you said about the form factor, but it couldn't do much. Also, obviously the price of the current hololens is NOT for consumers. The current form factor is the best one SO FAR. However, I don't think that means AR can't succeed. You have to start somewhere.
  • You're thinking about it as a "wear all the time, replace your current device" type of thing - that's not what this is. Hololens is meant to have very specific applications and use cases and is in no means meant to replace your current computing experience. Maybe one day, in 15 years say, it will be that (meant to be worn all the time and replace laptops/smartphones), but this is very high level. I see this could be a "consumer product that not all consumers are meant to buy (but still could if they wanted to)."  
  • I am not thinking about a wear all the time type device.  I am thinking about a device that dasily chains off your current phone,  to provide a different experience.  Consumers don't want things that are tied to their homes.   That day is done.   If you cannot use it where ever,  when ever.  then NOPE.  I know the current Hololens is not designed to be a consumer device.   I am saying that if MS wants to market a consumer needs to be what I stated above...if not...don't bother.
  • Speak for yourself. High resolution gaming is home based, hololens will be fine as a home based system too. 
  • yeah sure. 👌 
  • What do you mean "poor design"? Do you realize the engineering and development challenges Microsoft overcame in achieving what they have to date with HoloLens? Why the flippant writeoff of an obvious version 1 device (a fully untethered, self-powered computer on your head, to boot). There's nothing like it on this planet! Of course everyone expects a fashionable pair of "glasses" as the optimal and practical design for consumers (until we can get to contact lenses, etc.), bit that doesn't diminish this device one bit. Microsoft have shown with Surface, they can engineer quite compelling hardware. The issues they have are with developer support, maintaining internal/mgt. support, and their split personality between enterprise and (very faintly) consumer computing. And of course, Marketing
  • It was not built for the consumer market.
  • It doesn't seem a smart business strategy.  Microsoft has some of the best computer engineers in the world...this is a great product, but needs some open source development.  They should be marketing this to developers for a much cheaper prices.  I'm sure it cost a lot to develope but what's a a few million in subsidies to the price for a billion dollar company like Microsoft, More developers need to get  their hands on these and develop the apps.  VR/AR is the future, and AR has a lot of advantages in the non-gaming world, which is where the cash really is going to be at the end of the day. 
  • I think HoloLens has great potential for some applications, but not strictly consumer facing. I agree glasses size would be great, but we are a ways off for that to be good and reasonably priced.
  • Depends on what "reasonably priced" means. As a developer edition, they're expensive, but could be mass produced and sold for around $1200 (given components, mark up, etc.).
  • That is based on your opinion? Official Microsoft response (I believe Satya said that) is that it could launch HoloLens on the consumer market but it doesn't see some sense in launching there a 3000$ device without any consumer ready apps. So no, it can't be produced under 3000$. It is already produced in the quantities of thousands, you don't get so big discount and cost savings for swithcing to millions (yes you do get a discount but not so big).
  • MS need to just sell their stuff to other companies who are more able to bring things to market and actually sell them. No-one, even MS's biggest fans (we who still use their phones), believes MS can make a go of anything any more. They seem intent on backing out of the consumer market entirely, except for Xbox. And I would imagine that oddity in their 'strategy' will face a retrenching soon enough as it really doesn't fit with the company direction (mind you, not much does these days). After all, they've just announced a refocus of marketing on to business and industry (though since MS don't do marketing I'm not sure if anyone will notice) with no mention of the consumer market. If only they'd actually tell their remaining die hard customers what they are thinking without all the piddling about. Sadly, no amount of cajoling has ever moved MS to action. Oh well. Hurry back Sir Clive. We need a Sinclair phone and computer OS now.
  • The business refocusing is a good thing. They're firing a bunch a sales people they dont need. That's old ms becoming new ms, should have happened years ago. On the hardware side, they make good stuff. The surface laptop is being reviewed as the best laptop. Everybody's copying the surface pro. Xbox is still going strong. They're just failing in mobile, so it makes alot of sense to shift their mobile efforts to pc. 
  • "The surface laptop is being reviewed as the best laptop..." Uh, by who?
  • I'm sorry, but I purchased my original Xbox One with the hopes that Microsoft would release IllumiRoom!  You remember that concept?  But Microsoft gave up on Kinect which was suppose to power this concept.  Again, they threw that concept away easily.  Why wouldn't they throw this away just as easily?  I would suspect IllumiRoom would have been cheaper to bring to market than HoloLens.
  • Just remember that the mixed reality core is part of Windows 10 now.  If they do come out with a "surface mobile" device, it -should- have access to everything the desktop does.  I think(hope) that the consumer version of HoloLens is just waiting for them to release Windows 10 ARM.  One piece is waiting on another piece.  Then they aren't maintaing a tangent OS for HoloLens.  Windows 10 is Windows 10 for desktops, HoloLens, and potential "mobile" devices.  It's up to the hardware mfg to decide what hardware is attached or can be added on Think of it, get all those mixed reality headsets out this christmas.  Get people using them.  Then in Feb or so, announce "Oh yeah, here's our new mobile know that headset you bought?  Here, you can hook it up to your new 'phone' if you want the experience away from your desk".  They can then sell "dumb" hololens units that pair to this new device category.
  • AKA, same device connecting to either an AR or VR headset.  It's all basically the same and would show off the vision of the one-OS-to-rule-them-all Windows 10 philosophy.   Second generations could possibly utilize 802.11ad to get it all wireless if we're talking about such a short range between mobile device and headset(10 feet or less)
  • These are actually some good ideas! But MS is clearly not thinking this way. They never will. They are a company for enterprise solutions only and will remain that.  Only surface team can save them. And I am saying this because there is no road map shared yet!
  • I have a feeling that this is another market that Apple will steal from them and shut them out. Apple has an army of app devlopers behind them, ready to build apps for any product they put out. Microsoft is becoming like Sony.  A one hit tech company.
  • Sony have commitment of their product at least, even during the time PS3 and PSV struggled, they never gave up their own product, and both eventually succeed to certain extend (PS3 world wide and PSV in Japan). Microsoft just too easy to give up on their own products (Zune, Band, WP, etc.)
  • Microsoft already lost this yet to start AR/MR consumer devices war even though it had a 2 years advance.
    The failure to put it in consumers' hands and not having software for it was a critical mistake. A mistake Apple is not making. Also, the other key factor is the mobile platform. A consumer AR/MR device will be mobile and Microsoft kicked themselves out of this market entirely. Windows is not relevant anymore for consumers. And sadly, HoloLens (and its MR siblings) are all strongly tied to the unpopular OS.
  • Look at the head start they had with smart phones. MS develop the tech and concepts, but others can sell it. MS just can't. Once they work that out, they can start selling their stuff straight to Apple and Google so they can sell it for them and actually give MS some cash for it. Currently they just let them have it for free. Seems odd, but they do.
  • I think Jez did well by expressing concern over Microsoft's long history of innovating and then giving up, only to then be leapfrogged by late-starting competitors. And I also think that unless Microsoft acts soon and gets back into Windows phone development, they'll become the next IBM. Smartphones are not going away this century--not now, not five years from now, not twenty-five years from now. People aren't going to carry around HMDs in their pocket, nor will they wear them all the time (even if they magically get them down to 'sunglasses' size). Phones are compact,  portable, and powerful. Microsoft made a huge mistake by throwing away all the gains they had made in mobile market share in late 2013. They need to fix that now, like right now, or Apple and Google will control the future of computing (smartphones, AR, and IoT).
  • Too late, Apple and google already control the future of computing.
  • Says who?
  • People will never write an encyclopedia (Wikipedia)
    People will never buy things from strangers. (ebay)
    People will never go to strangers houses for their vacation. (airbnb)
    People will never stop watching TV, making their own channels. (Youtube)
    People will never use a phone without keyboard (iPhone) I could continue for my entire life talking about technologies which today are normal and 25 years ago people said it was impossible. But now the quesiton is: If nobody wants to wear smartglasses, why Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Snap, and other companies are investing billions in AR solutions?
  • The problem is that, when ever people wear smartglasses few years ago, Apple and Google may already have millions of apps supporting their glasses coming from their phone platform, while Hololens only havs hundreds or thousands apps from the enterprise or few other developers who have hololens developement kit. Then it's another WP story. I think for AR/VR, it's more clearly that it's all about apps in the future, not about website / standard, not about online services / cloud first, and most likely not about enterprise only.
  • History will show that Nadella was the downfall of Microsoft. If there isnt a radical shift from top down, there is no hope for Microsoft in the future of computing.
  • They still have a path to success on the mobile front with Windows 10 on arm. There's a compelling case for a ultra mobile pc with a data connection that can make calls to. It won't be mass market at first but it'll really begin to eat away at android sales in alot of groups. The problem is they need to act now. 
  • Nice article and the arrogance is rampant accross MS in pretty much all departments, speak to people about developing something and the response is "we will just buy a company that does that". They need a cultural shift more than some places all they talk about are the cars parked outside and which ones best, exceptionalism at its worst.
  • The only thing which could kill hololens is MS itself. And they are doing so already. Developing a common platform for AR and VR is nice, but in doing so the hype of hololens has gone down.  It's already over an year hololens is released and still no note worthy improvement I have seen. They have become obsessed with there enterprise partners and directing the whole AR thing towards work scenarios only.  
  • Viewing AR through a mobile phone seem boring to me --I'd prefer to interact with the hologram than just watch a holo-video.
  • HMDs will replace phones.
  • Absolutely on the mark Jez, and once again the failure of mobile is going to hit MSFT hard.
  • HoloLens is still ahead of its competitors but MS is making a huge mistake by waiting to release a consumer device. They should have put a device that doesn't cost $2000 into the hands of consumers and developers. Yes the FOV would've been limited, yes they would have lost money, but people would be associating holographic with ms. I still think the verdict on Nadella should be reserved until after the holiday, but HoloLens is such a huge mistake. 
  • Agree with Microsoft's marketing abilities being bad, but Hololens itself I would not class as a mistake.  It is actually an amazing product, that seems stuck in Beta, or is it Alpha, mode and not progressing.  Maybe Windows on Arm can shrink down the Hololens and make it last longer?  Is this why Microsoft was waiting so long?  Who knows. Apple are stealing the idea, making it their own and marketing the crap out of it.  This smells like iPhone all over again, and look where that left Windows Mobile....
  • I agree, hololens is brillant. They came out two years ago, and ms was most likely started work on it at least 2 years before that if not 3 or 4. Who else was working on holographics that early? That shows serious foresight. Also I think Nadella is the guy who realised that it could be much more than an xbox accessory like it was orginally planned. Also I think youre right, I think theyre waiting for windows on arm so the device can be slimmed down. However I think its a critical mistake to wait until 2019 or 2020 to have a consumer product like theyve announced. Sometimes you've just got to put a product out there and see how people use it so you know the path forward.   You know whats weird, Bing thinks hololens consumer edition is set to release sometime in 2017... odd...      
  • How many years has it been since the HoloLens reveal? .... If that does not tell you you will never see it as a consumer device, I don't know what will. Microsoft screwed themselves majorly once more. They parade around this crazy Holo concept and then like always fail miserably when it comes to mass market execution. Microsoft is the joke of the tech industry when it comes to consumer tech.  
  • NaDella is crushing MS slowly.. Ballmer not a great CEO but Nadella's legacy started great because of ballmers products started to take off the same time. Windows 10 is not even great for touch. Windows 8 had flaws but it got touch right. All sounds exciting with current MS but nothing in real world is exciting
  • this totally feels like Kinect, yeah enormous potential, bla bla, then nothing, then irrelevance I do believe HMDs are the true end all of general computing, at least the interface part, imagine any normal pair of glasses can be made an HMD with amazing fov and contrast, and it has adaptive UI to be usable via gestures and voice AND become a w10 desk when wanted, accepting all the usual I/O, that's finally a device to replace them all, being aided by a mobile cpu(screenless phone-thingy) and desk tower at home-office when needed, sign me up
  • Will never take off and will end up like 3D for TV. Most people don't want to wear headgear like that. Way too expensive for consumer use anyway.
  • Funny, I feel much the same way.  The problem to me is that all of these VR, AR, Mixed Reality platforms limit the user to interacting with the virtual environment to a very constrained and ultimately unsatisfying experience.  Cumbersome headgear or looking through your phone as a window to the virtual world like Pokemon Go or Apple's coming platform, goofy handheld controllers, etc.  You can increase the resolution, framerate, field of view, but none of these will ever convincingly put you "in" the virtual reality.  Nothing like the sci-fi magical devices like the holodeck or the sort of headgear that takes over your mind and creates a Matrix-like holodeck in your head.  I've tried the Hololens and Vive demos at the Microsoft store as well as well as some of the phone based VR setups (Google Cardboard and Samsung), and they're cool as "demos", but eventally it's just meh. To me very much like 3D's resurgence with Avatar where for a few years it was "the future", and several big directors in Hollywood were saying they'd never make a 2D movie again; all the TV manufacturers were developing 3D sets, working on glasses-free 3D, etc.  And now?  I don't think there's a TV manufacturer still making 3D sets, the UHD Blu-Ray standard doesn't even have a 3D format, and I don't see much interest in 3D at the theaters even. So I can see these platforms finding success in certain niches - maybe for short term (1 hour or less, maybe much less) vizualization efforts in industry or education, but I don't see these becoming the next big thing.  Not anytime soon, anyway. Thinking about it more.  On several of the Windows Central podcasts, Dan Rubino has asked a question like "do you think we'll still be using smartphones like today 10 years from now?"  And you know what, I wouldn't be surprised if we are.  I'm typing this on a laptop.  I bought my first laptop nearly 24 years ago.  It was a Powerbook 145, and while lots of things have improved (performance, screen tech, wireless networking), the biggest form factor difference between it and my current laptop is that it had a trackball instead of a touch pad.  I got my first PDA around 20 years ago, and similarly, not a lot has changed in basic form factor between those and modern smartphones.  The biggest form factor difference is that most of them don't use a stylus anymore.  (And honestly, the PDA form factor wasn't all that different from the "analog PDA" that preceeded it;  a small pocket size notepad and pen/pencil.)  You know, sometimes basic form factors are just a good fit for the purpose, and don't need to change drastically.
  • A product in search of a market. Will likely be useful someday in specialized settings like education, engineering & design, etc. There's a reason they haven't released this as a consumer product, because it would fail miserably.
  • Great read Jez, I agree totally with all your concerns. Microsoft relies too much on the tech community and events for getting its new products out there, and they are not nearly enough The average man on the street does not know that HoloLens exists, only tech followers, reporters, and industry people. That is Microsoft's failure. Even Surface had suffered from spotty marketing globally, after several years of production and iteration. People are supposed to be swamped with HoloLens news NOW and be comparing every word Apple says about AR now to HoloLens, and realizing how far behind Apple is, by default. Instead, I'm very afraid that it will be the other way around, with Apple dictating the conversation of what an AR experience is, and then Microsoft having to belatedly come after with marketing trying to explain to people that they started first. I really hope this doesn't happen. Notice how in spite of all their efforts and marketing, Apple's iPad had failed to claim the "Pro" moniker from Microsoft Surface Pro. Yes, Microsoft has more powerful internal hardware. And, Microsoft had the "Pro" branding. And of course full Windows. But I think a major reason for consumers is that Microsoft came to market FIRST and shaped the idea of a productivity tablet/2-in-1. So everything Apple did (pencil, split-screen multitasking, etc.) were easily and obviously seen as weaker shadows of what Microsoft already offered out of the box. So it became a matter of OS preference and task-specificity. A lot of people bought Surface in addition to iPads and saw the difference. If Microsoft does not control the AR narrative NOW (as in in the next 3 months), it might be too late for whatever super device they are planning to release in the near future (2019!)
  • Excellent article. I'm glad Windows central is finally saying what I've been saying for years. Hopefully this awakens Microsoft, but I'm afraid it's too late.
    Everything that Microsoft had is about to collapse. Look at the new Skype app for example. For years I've been telling what is wrong with that app/platform. All those problems still exist. Now they release a new app on iOS and Android and literally everyone hates it with a passion. Just read the reviews out there. It's a big joke. Apart from the 10 different user interfaces (skype looks different on iOS, android, windows, windows mobile, web...) they still can't manage to get the notifications right. People receive them late or miss calls. How long does this problem exist? YEARS. Where does skype put development in? In endless new UI experiences, Snapchat copycat bullshit etc... Microsoft apps won't even survive on iOS and Android. Maybe office for a while but people will finally start using similar products from Apple or Google.
    Nadella killed Microsoft when he retrenched from mobile. It will destroy every other business they have in the long run.
    And if Alex kid really think that a HoloLens will replace phones...... Seriously then I lost every bit of hope that was left.
  • I am unsure where you get your information from, but Skype for Windows in the UWP format, which is what will replace Win32 in the future, has the same interface on Windows Mobile and Windows PC versions.  I agree notifications are a mess, but I have never actually missed a call. Office is still the Enterprise solution and many home users also rely on Office, so again I am unsure why you feel these are going to collapse.  Microsoft do aim more for Enterprise than for Consumer, abuse them for that all you want but they are not the only big company that is Enterprise focussed rather than consumer focussed.  Mobile platform.  From a business perspective, I would have abandoned as well where it stood at the time Microsoft wrote off Nokia Mobility.  Yes, it was mistakes from Microsoft that killed it.  The constant rebooting and not being backward compatible, but Windows Phone 7 and onward never gained the traction required to be serious competition to Andriod and iOS.  From a BUSINESS perspective, the right decision is to totally rethink it and invent a new category, not try to compete with established ecosystems.  Fans will be fans and will look around and play with things.  Mobile was an experiment for Microsoft, one that did not work out well.  Hate them for not throwing money into a division that was losing more than it could ever gain.  I like Win Mobile, but I can certainly see it would never compete.  Microsoft need to INVENT, which they are good at.  They also need to make the public aware of their inventions.  This is where they are very bad.  Apple will take the idea, market the s*** out of it and make a fortune by making the world think it is their idea.  Microsoft need to do this first and put Apple in their place.  Unfortunately, this is the thing that is unlikely to happen. 
  • This is exciting and disappointing at the same time.  I saw a couple compare it Google Glass, but I do not think you can compare it given this is actually a full x86 architecture PC on your head running on Batteries.  A completely stand alone device that does not require a phone, tablet or PC to run the apps.  Okay, a full PC that is that light, runs productivity as well as VR apps has upto 4 hours battery in its present form, they are positives for the Hololens project. The big positive, being completely a standalone PC, is also one of the negatives as it means something slightly bulky on your head.  It will probably become the norm in the future, and with Windows on Arm they may be able to replace the Intel Atom with an ARM based CPU and make it smaller.  This may be the future replacement for the smart phone, but it is not today.  I am getting side tracked. The biggest negative is Microsoft.  They do not let anyone know, outside a select few, that this is even coming up in the future.  A quick search on Google for AR Development, VR or any other search relating to Virtual or Augmented Reality and the Hololens does not even show at all on the first page.  As the device has been demonstrated and is available to developers, it is no secret so there does need to be some kind of public awareness that this sort of device is in development, even if not quite ready for release.  Public awareness means general public, not just fans and enthusiasts that read sites like Windows Central.  The general public doesn't even know what Windows Central is, no offence to anyone.  Microsoft have, from what I can surmise, a unique device in the Hololens in that it is a completely stand alone PC and not dependent on any other device.  You could purchase a Hololens and not need a PC, Phone or other device to use it. In the future, maybe even the very near future, it may be quite easy for Microsoft to add Cellular capabilities.  This may be a pipe dream, who knows.  I guess it depends if the future is a device on our heads or something like an implanted chip that connects directly to our optic nerve......
  • What does Apple's AR platform give that we don't have already? The kinds of apps I've seen so far are stuff we've already had. Sure the platform now makes it easier for devs to create but those kinds of AR apps are already out there for sale. Maybe the iPhone 8 will start to integrate some more AR specific sensors and increase what can be done, but right now they still feel well behind to me. In saying that it's Apple, and they are already shipping these soon to be AR-enabled devices to millions of people, so even if their platform isn't the best solution I'm sure it will still do well. I think Microsoft is right, the smart phone that we use today *should* be dead. It's not the future. And even personally I've been actively looking at ways to replace mine for a while now. BUT it's one thing for Microsoft to have that vision and another to implement it. They've showed us concepts of technologies that _could_ replace it but so far nothing concrete that _can_ replace it. And I feel, based on their history, that they won't. Or at least not until a much later point when they are again late to the party.
  • If Microsoft's main feature is a sensor built in HoloLens that can sense the environment, then Apple doing similar things with a simple smartphone doesn't sound like 'nothing', it actually pretty much questions everything related to Microsoft's efforts.
  • What I'm saying is that Apple is *not* doing what HoloLens does at this point. What they have is a very basic AR (the kind that has already been done in apps on Windows Phone, Android & iOS in the past). They may go further with future devices, but that will probably require including AR specific sensors and processing hardware within the device. Even then what HoloLens has on top is also the glasses form factor and how they overlay on top of your natural vision (vs piping external video through a screen). I still think there's a good chance Microsoft will get left behind, as I said before, but I don't think that's happened yet and certainly not with Apple's AR platform as it stands.
  • If MS doesn't put out something amazing, with regards to Windows 10, by winter and REALLY support it, than I will see MS as a nothing burger.
  • Thanks for your article.  I'm afraid I don't agree with your assertion that Microsoft may have abandoned mobile for Hololens.  I certainly hope not.  I don't think they were being literal when they said, "mobile is dead."  I think what they meant to say is that mobile as we know it, is dead.  Its a subtle difference, for sure. And I still don't know how that gets Microsoft back in the game.  I'm not too concerned with Apple AR.  I am betting it will be more of a fad than a feature people will "need."  Still, it isn't good if Apple gets to tout their arrival of mobile based AR first even if they generally provide positive experiences and superior marketing.
  • I'm done with Microsoft phones not even a Surface device will bring me back.
  • I think we will see automated vehicles before this tech becomes mainstream...
  • At this point, I just don't trust MS to not abandon everything outside their core business.
  • Meh, yeah I don't see people using measuring tape on their phones being something that will drive a million apps. For '"fun" applications, something like story remix is more powerful.  What MSFT is really aiming for I think, is a glasses form factor. Not a typical HMD, but something just like a pair of shades/glasses, that acts as a satellite display for other devices. 
    With something like that, the power of many screens of any size, is pretty advantageous over a tiny smartphone display for mobile computing. And in that, I can see what alex means - the future of mobile computing is not tiny screens, but larger screens - folding technolgy and AR. 
  • Folding smartphone/tablet hybrid and unobstrusive AR glasses/contact lenses is the future ..most people would agree... Thinking as a developer - Do i want to dedicate a part of my/or small company's life and resources (it's a huge commitment!) for an exciting technology platform that progressively evolves from a simple porduct that does a few things well (so that I can moentize my efforts)...OR do I dedicate myself to a huge complex product plafform that can do many things not so well at this time but has great potential sometime in the future? Microsoft is coming from the wrong direction as they did with the smartphones! It's a herculean engineering task trying to shoehorn a full fledged desktop OS into resource constrained handhelds, rather than starting with a smartphone OS written for ARM and evolving that to run on bigger devices. Sure they have a huge responsibility towards legacy customers that constrains them...but as they say,  unless you're ready to disrupt yourself, somebody else would do it for you!  
  • First the promise. Watch this video. Second, I have a Hololens sitting behind me but I need to learn Unity and 3D in order to do something useful with it. Third, in order for Hololens to succeed, it needs to be miniaturized. Why hasn't Hololens 2 been introduced? Coz Intel scrapped Atom SoC development. The whole Hololens team needed to retool for an ARM SoC and there are MANY custom parts on the Hololens. It's like Alex Kipman had to start from scratch. Damn u Intel! Four, I have seen a Holographic display being squeezed into a pair of sunglasses. Granted that doesn't have the Kinect sensors like the Hololens does now, but it can be done. I suppose the easiest way to go is for this holo-glass to be plugged into a smartphone via a cable for display & sound. The sensors and camera should continue to use Microsoft HPU. Five, Apple's AR effort is a stop-gap measure. I have seen those kind of AR before, back in Windows Mobile 5/6 days. It failed because using your smartphone as an AR view-port is very inconvenient and there's no sense of 3D that stereoscopic vision can provide on the Hololens, Rift & Vive. Six, in order for the market to move forward, you need consumers who are willing to give it a try. Google Glass is very distracting because you have to shift your eye focal point unlike Hololens where the Hologram is superimposed on your environment. A Holo-glasses will be as distracting as wearing a pair of sunglasses. There is no mental switch needed to use the Hololens, which is why it wowed everyone who had a chance to try it. We need Microsoft to come out with a much lighter (in weight) version or a Lite version that is tethered to a smartphone which will bring cost down. Wearing a Hololens in public right now is just so !@#$%^. LOL
  • the mixed reality glasses are coming from OEMs like HP, Dell, Lenovo next month...they are light weight and will be tethered to PCs and laptops. If they can be tethered to a mobile device that sure should help in making them more mainstream? Unfortunately, microsoft doesn't have any mobile device yet :)
  • However, you'd still look like a dork if you want those out in the street. LOL At least with the HoloLens, people can see your eyes so they know you wouldn't crash into them. ;)
  • I actually don't see AR of this calibre being a consumer product for awhile. Just like the first mobile phone, and the first computers were enterprise, and the first graphene screens will be enterprise, its the people with the big bucks that will be the first customers and bring the price down. If a consumer product is created of this nature, it will be lower quality. Some tech races take longer, because the manu costs are higher, and the area newer. I don't think any of these things are overnight situations.  I think of apples AR, and googles cardboard as something like the dinosaur VR machine that did the rounds in the 90s. Preview technologies without real relation to the actual thing. 
  • Microsoft wins either way. They either have the dominating AR headset in the market - or they will make billions each year with all their AR patents.
  • It isn't as simple as that. Microsoft can't ask for royalties from companies like Apple that can make counter attack on them in the same way. They would do that only if they are in some sort of financial troubles and that would be the last resort to try something. Of course as long as Android is free and Microsoft can attack OEMs and not Google they may get some money for some time (e.g. all their patents for the phones expired by now so they don't get any money from them), but it isn't quite known what model Google will use for AR. Finally many patents can be easily overriden. You can't patent AR, just some particular methods to achieve it. Frequently there are other methods that can be used with the same effect.
  • A very well put-together article clearly identifying the flaws in Microsoft AR strategy. Well done, hope Satya reads WC ;)
  • It's just too sad. In the past weeks, our team is flip-flopping whether to abandon UWP and Windows Mixed Reality this early. At best, we can defer our efforts to a year and see what happens. Our team is familiar with the MS full stack since we all have enterprise background. At the same time, we are wise-ing up by simultaneously immersing ourselves with all dominant mobile platforms. In this time of transition, we still have until October though to wait for Microsoft to reveal a more compelling proposition and direction in the AR space. This article provides a few agenda we can discuss in the coming days. Thanks.
  • Seriously? First of all MS research has already solved the FOV problem and gotten the glasses down to a size that looks like a thick pair of regular glasses. Glasses are one thing people will be willing to wear if it's worth it. Moreso than watches. Go out on a really sunny day. The whole UWP thing is long term play while they continue w32 compatibility. It took years before w32 was even mature and worthy. MS has always had bad luck with releasing too early. It's better if people adapt to VR and Apple/Google AR first and then once they get a taste MS can blow them away. It may not even be MS, maybe some other company. Point is that this is not ready and neither is the world. MS can't lead at this point. They need not only the hardware but big exclusive games/apps that it launches with. Treat it like an xbox. . They are a huge company with a vision in place already. You don't know anything about the details of anything they are doing. They know their competitors just as much as you do. Think about how much work needs to be done. Just security alone is a huge amount of time MS has to put in. Things get delayed, new things pop up all the time. A company can only do so much. They are still even working on changing the organization. Even the whole side of the developer tools and maintaining dominance on all platforms. Apple will just do their one thing and focus on that. Ms can't just focus on one thing.
  • Oh god. Some sh*t on a screen of an iPhone can't be called holograms. And VR requires people to put HMDs on your head, not holding a phone in front of you for hours...
  • What Apple is doing with AR is old hat. I remember a Lumia app where it would take your camera and overlay businesses on the screen. These types of apps have generally been "meh" at best. Apple's doing it now so the press and public will have a "Cool!" approach to it, but it's not going to advance the field one bit. HoloLens is a completely different ballgame. While it being head mounted is an aspect of it, it can't be viewed as a drawback. It's more of a limitation. Even if it had the battery life, I would never wear a HoloLens every waking hour of my day. But for select tasks, it would make for the perfect tool.  And that's the thing. HoloLens is a tool. It's not a tool everyone needs, but for some, it could prove to be a very valuable tool. I see a lot of corporations leveraging this to complete important tasks and I think that will be the primary marketing focus. Plus, they're more likely to be able to justify the cost. Where HoloLens will benefit everyday consumers is if they can get some of that tech into a smaller form factor. I could see simple heads up display-like glasses being hugely beneficial to general consumers.