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HoloLens is Microsoft's 5-year plan to conquer augmented reality computing, dev kits due next year

During the Salesforce Dreamforce conference, Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella sat down for some Q&A with the host of the event. One of the big topics was HoloLens, specifically when and for who?

Nadella laid out a few ideas for HoloLens and used a few interesting phrases like "category creation moment" and referred to the technology as "mind blowing". When pressed on when HoloLens will be released, Nadella reasserted that the dev kits will come "by next year, for sure" but was quick to caution that HoloLens is on a "five year journey".

Indeed, creating a new category in computing is not something you do overnight. Too many companies have been burned by rushing to market new hardware that failed to impress audiences. Microsoft needs to approach HoloLens with caution and not overexuberance. Testing it, working with developers to create content, reduction in pricing, and figuring out target markets are all key to its success.

Considering Microsoft appears to be miles ahead in this technology than anyone else, they certainly do have the time – and resources – to do this right.

I tried the near-finalized version of HoloLens, this is what I think

In terms of who HoloLens is for, Nadella quickly noted that enterprise are the initial target audience, something Nadella talked about back in July. Nadella noted that "single application use" like Auto CAD and scenarios for "architecture, industrial design" and health care were all likely users as well.

Microsoft will try again to send two HoloLens headsets into space in December {.cta}

Regarding gaming, Nadella said that category will be "reimagined" with HoloLens and was quick to point out the differences between HoloLens (augmented reality) versus virtual reality like Oculus Rift. Even in that latter category, Microsoft has a leg up as Oculus Rift will use Windows 10 machines and even a Xbox One controller. Still, there appears to be awhile to go before consumers will be donning a HoloLens to play an Xbox Live game.

What to expect from Microsoft's Windows 10 devices event in NYC

Windows Central has heard that HoloLens could be one of the reveals at Microsoft's October event, specifically an announcement on pricing and limited availability. We'll be covering the event to see what takes place.

Watch the 4-minute video clip of Nadella's remarks and tell us what you think.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

61 Comments
  • Yikes, 5 years. That's an eternity in the tech field.
  • Well, it is a new category of computing never tried before. PCs took a very long time too to catch on. I'd say wearables are in the same situation, just no one has said it. We don't know what people want, what works, battery life, what they will pay, form factors, and more.
  • I agree but it just seems that new technologies are popping up and reaching maturity very fast. Tablets were revolutionary not even 5 years ago and now they are just meh to most people. A lot of the technology we have now was unthinkable 5 years ago and a lot was created by small outfits with less resource than MS. I would have figured if Microsoft believed in the concept that much they would push for a shorter timetable particularly considering there is no legacy support needed and they have the lead.
  • You have to remember, tablets didn't first come to market when the iPad was released.  Microsoft was pushing tablets for year, but Windows prior to Windows 8 never really worked too well.  I think it is smart not to rush Hololens.
  • I agree Daniel. Especially on wearables. A friend of mine has an apple watch. BEAUTIFUL animations, great build quality. But it's pretty limited. Counts calories. Notifications from phone. A couple of services like texting prerecorded messages.
    Worst part is, its essentially leashed to the phone for half of its features. Smartwatches may develop to something better, but they don't really have a set "purpose" yet.
  • Not really... Virtual Reality has already been around for 20 years, and hasn't changed drastically. It's still a giant helmet on your head :P The current iterations are obviously more powerful and lighter than the huge clunky helmets we used to use, and of course the games and applications available have improved. The biggest hurdle it needs to overcome is not a technical one though, but rather to attain popular appeal... it's still firmly in the uber-nerd / tech enthusiast realm, in much the same way as those racing-simulator setups are. I can see the potential, but I still wonder if it'll reach mass-appeal in the next 5 years.
  • That's a good point. Smartphones too had been around for years before the iPhone but the iPhone was what really created mass consumer appeal to create the market we see today.
  • And Apple didn't introduce the iPhone 5 years before launching it...
  • Exactly, if Microsoft wanted to wait 5 years they should have kept it quiet; not make a huge splash and now say wait 5 years for it, lol.
  • If they waited another 5 years, who would want the dev kit next year? They got people excited about it, got others thinking about what they could do with it. Soon developers can buy it, build for it, and when it goes retail, profit off it. Kind of like the Occulous rift has been around for a while (3 years?) and dev kits have been available for some time.
  • They arent saying wait 5 years.  They just have a 5 year plan around it. Targeting a commercial release next year is not saying wait 5 years.  Look at the long path the Rift headset has taken.  
  • I don't think the 5 year plan means they won't release it for 5 years, and if you think about it, HoloLens has already been in development for 3 years. Perhaps that 3 years is already part of this journey so we will see consumer release in 2 years time. It seems to me that the 5 years is meant to be when it hits the sweet spot for pricing and the technology and OS has matured. They are already testing it with partner companies, dev kits being released next year is so developers can start making content and testing without it needing to be available to consumers off the shelf, and most likely, any one can buy the dev kit similar to the RealSense dev kit so technically it will be released as a beta product. As I said in another comment, regardless of who copies it, if it doesn't run Windows 10 it's just not as good and isn't really the same thing.
  • And people/devs/companies needed to know that MS was in this business
  • Microsoft had to announce on Jan 22nd, as that was the day they had to show off Windows 10 mobile. Since that failed so miserably, they had to distract the tech journalists with something, hence the Hololens reveal.
  • The iphone did not change anything overnight...it took atleast 3-4 years to gain huge popularity...and thats in an established market...Hololens is a completely new market...
  • True, but it created the shift and the interest from the general public.
  • They are not saying they are launching this in 5 years.  But it may be 5 years before it really takes off and becomes mainstream.  Although I don't think mainstream is the right term, but you get my point.  Even with the iPhone, it took a few iterations and a few years before it really became big.
  • It's taken 3 years for everyone to copy the Surface...
  • They should let the team behind Xbox Music and Groove develop it
  • That just made my brain hurt.
  • Lol you dog you
  • They would develope A Legal way of active suicide support :O
  • Dev kits by next year. Great.
  • Coming soon.......
  • For sure.
  • Indeed, but this is very different than us wanting a mature mobile OS. I think we can cut them some slack on creating a wireless AR computer you wear on your head, lol. I mean, we don't even have flying cars or jetpacks either.
  • So true, when I can I get a Windows 10 powered jetpack with Cortana integration? "Hey Cortana, Lift Off!"
  • When can I get Cortana? Windows platforms north European region.
  • Those demo units looked like almost ready for primetime. Sure limited field of vision was reported. Going all in with demos and statement from Nadella that Minecraft was bought to market HoloLens did left impression that release would be sooner than soon.
  • These days it seems everything from Microsoft is Coming soon.  
  • Cue the Star Trek theme tune...
  • What a fail this has been from Microsoft; First the promise to get it into the market with Windows 10 release; then constant delays as is now the Microsoft trademark move; and now just a dev kit next year and no consumer version in sight. Well done Microsoft, by the time you wake up and release a consumer version Google, Apple or Samsung will beat you again. "Microsoft needs to approach HoloLens with caution and not overexuberance." I would argue the exact opposite Daniel; if Microsoft does not capitalise on the exitment they created for Holo lens, by the time they sort everything out they will once again be last to the market and it won't matter if their version is better by then.
  • I agree; if they didn't feel confident in a launch along with W10, they should have kept a lid on it. Right now it's a matter of getting a functional product on the market before the competition; NOT about perfecting the product for a 2020 launch!
  • Magic leap will be there Anounced on its release
  • ,
  • Magic leap will be there Anounced on its release
  • And if they bring it to market this year for $3000 to consumers, full of bugs, relatively small field of view, limited content and maybe a bit heavy and uncomfortable to wear, will you be happy? Even if Apple reinvents it and releases a "magical" version of the HoloLens, it won't have the most important thing, Windows 10. In my view, any technology that doesn't run Windows 10 is just inferior in the long run. Windows 10 is the future, a dream come true. No, it's not quite there yet, but that's where it's heading over the next 5 years and on. And in 5 years time, Apple and Google will be playing catch up trying to mimic the one OS strategy while Windows 10 has already matured. For me, Microsoft has already won, just like a game of chess, Microsoft already planned the next moves and will get the checkmate.
  • I agree. This product, Microsoft Hololens, could be the device that justify developers bring their code to Windows Platform (Runtime), as iPad Pro as is the product released to justify developers rewrite their code from Objective-C to Swift and so has a true Universal Code that run at all Apple devices.
  • They never said HoloLens would launch at the same time as Windows 10, so I'm not really sure what you're talking about. It was only announced 6 months before the Windows 10 release.
  • You mean like Google did with Google Glass - that was soooo successful, right? MS have spent years getting to this point with HoloLens - there's no way the competition can leap-frog them, especially as none of them seem to "get it".  VR is not the future, AR is. And just to re-iterate what many people have pointed out - 5 year plan does not mean it'll be five years before consumer products (they're releasing the Dev Kits next year, do you really think MS expect devs to develop for something that won't come out in 5 years time???).  I expect Xmas 2016 for consumer release.
  • I understand their slow-roll-out approach, and I think it's the way to go. One of the problems with their Kinect rollout is that people unfairly expected magic at launch without realizing that it was incredibly nascent and complex technology that would take years upon years to master. These people, again, unfairly, thereafter dismissed Kinect for not being flawless and overflowing with AAA content from the get-go. Thus, a slow rollout for HoloLens is a better strategy as it gives time for developers to learn the technology. The problem, though, is how fast-moving the tech industry is. I have no doubt Apple and Google are now frantically working on similar products and if they beat Microsoft to the punch, that could be trouble. Yes, Microsoft has a head start, but head starts don't mean much in the tech sector anymore.
  •     1. Developers will only support it if they think it's going to be popular with consumers . The only way of knowing that is if they get it on the hands of consumers .  2.  People expected "magic" from Kinect because Microsft sort of let people believe it was going to be magical . Before it got released , they released a bunch of exciting demo videos . When it finally got released the product was far from that .  They made the same problem with Hololens , in their initial videos .. They should a very wide FOV which the actual device wasn't capable of . Don't over promise and under-deliver . 
  • I am a developer - and I can tell you the moment the Dev Kit comes out for HoloLens I'll be fully developing for it. MS is right to target enterprise customers first - far more potential in that field than there is for "playing" around as a consumer. I remember when mobile phones were bricks.  I remember when it took 5 minutes for a web page to load.  HoloLens is much further ahead than those technologies were when they were introduced to everyone, and I expect HoloLens to be just as successful as mobile and web; it's a total game changer.
  • 5 year plan eh?... Soviet Union remembers.
  • Hopefully, this will work out better than Kinects.  Kinects had so much potential and then it just disappeared...
  • Five Years?!  So even Hololens will be out before the next Windows Mobile flagship phone!
  • Hololens is positioned to be the industry-defining, environmental computing tool. Microsoft need to get it right first time, and, in my opinion, they need to have a high-powered version (for enterprise) and a lite version (for consumer use) something that is easy to update software-wise or with replaceable parts, and they can get out quickly) The worst thing ever will be for someone like Apple to release a lower-specced but smoothly-integrated super-accessory (powered by by the iPhone, no less) next year, market the living daylights out of it, and leave Microsoft "perfecting".
  • So, Microsoft acquired the rights to 'Step one of five' from Nokia too? I'd have thought Nokia would have fought tooth and nail to hang onto that intellectual copyright.
  • 10 years from now, its gonna seem so bulky. ;)
  • Oculus Rift + front cameras = Augmented reality, with wider FoV years before Hololens. Simple solution, as Warwick Univiversity has used with BAESystems.
    Sorry Microsoft but Hololens is no redundant by simpler solition.
  • And it's wireless?
  • MS Ghandi has spoken!
  • Emphasis on augmented reality and its difference from virtual reality just tells us that for once Microsoft are not only ahead of the cure from their competition but also in a position of taking better advantage of it when the time comes. Yes, I actually believe that holographic computing is the future of computing. Not smart watches, not curved phones, not virtual reality glasses but actual real time holograms projected into the air which can be interacted with by the users. And I believe the initiative Microsoft has taken with Windows 10 holographic APIs will place them in an advantageous spot to help grow the ecosystem of holographic computing through its holographic development platforms when the hardware becomes capable of it. HoloLens right now is a mishmash of a device between augmented reality and virtual reality. Of course the software is more augmented reality oriented but without actual holograms is presented in a more virtual reality way. And right now, Microsoft needs to get the following things straight with holograms:
    1) Field of View (obviously).
    2) True immersive experience option for media consumption.
    3) More interaction options with the holograms like traditional keyboard, mouse, joypads and touch screens of your phones.
    4) Ability to cast holograms onto a screen. These things are important because
    1) consumers will never warm up to gestures seemingly in thin air. I thought Microsoft would have learnt their lesson by now with Kinect. That's why a physical interaction method that is visible is necessary.
    2) It's all good to be able to stream whatever your cameras are seeing to a 3rd person through Skype but how about showing 1st person audience, what you are doing? Thus the screen projection quality.
    3) A VR competing device is incomplete without having an option for immersive film/photo viewing experience. It's cameras should have capabilities to capture special motion/static imagery for immersive content viewing. I think their platform capabilities will be strong enough when actual holographic computing arrives so here is a hoping to that. P.S A nod to SciFi films and tv shows for imagining the future for us. :)
  • Until they figure out how to project holograms in to the middle of a room without having to wear a contraption on you head, this technology I'd going no where.
  • Where did they come up with 5 years?
  • Dev kits come out next year... Its not vaporware; people are excited about it. Honestly, this is probably the right way to go about it. Enterprise will probably launch in 2016-2017 timeframe followed by the consumer models in 2018-2020. If they release a consumer version first, it'll be buggy and gimmicky.  This also gives devs the time to actually write applications for the platform.  
  • This strategy is better than the wearables market pushing smartwatches that need to be charged every night. I'll wear smart watches when they have at least month long battery life.
  • First off if they weren't ready they didn't need to announce it so early ? By the time it's out no one will care . There is not a single successful tech product that took 5 years to be released after it got announced . The idea is to release a usable but not perfect product , let consumers play with it and improve over time . You're never going to get it perfect the first time , even if you spend a hundred years on it . See Surface Pro or the iPhone .
  • It's kind of obvious that HoloLens will become the true 3d TV experience. That alone is enough to hook in a lot of people.
  • Would you imagine playing pokemon go with the hololens!!! OMG it would be epic!