A media-focused HoloLens could help Microsoft bring AR to consumers

In 2015, Microsoft introduced its untethered, wearable Windows 10 holographic computer, HoloLens. As part of Windows 10, Windows Mixed Reality (previously called Windows Holographic) was also introduced as the platform that would power AR and virtual reality (VR) experiences. Microsoft is positioning for a future of holographic computing.

To bring holographic computing to market, Microsoft began executing a methodic strategy of building partnerships and creating tailored AR experiences. This strategy resulted in HoloLens adoption in specific industries like health care, education, the U.S. military, entertainment, NASA and more. Consumers aren't part of that picture yet, but Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella said in 2015 that a consumer version of HoloLens was five years away. That would be 2020.

Apple's AR threat isn't virtual

That 2020 prediction may have been shortened to 2019 as Microsoft has skipped HoloLens version two to expedite version three. Recent reports reveal an upgrade to HoloLens with onboard AI and other enhancements. Still, there are currently just 150 HoloLens-specific apps in the Windows Store. That's an uninspiring number considering Apple's developer community.

In the wake of what Microsoft has accomplished with a holographic platform, a unique wearable computer, strategic partnerships, mindshare and developer support, Apple has boldly thrown its hat into the AR ring. With an update coming to iOS 11, hundreds of millions of iPad and iPhone users, and 16 million developers, will have access to Apple's less advanced take on AR via ARKit.

With Windows 10's install base, Microsoft's AR platform is technically over 500 million devices strong. Apple boasts its platform will surpass that. Supported by passionate developers that are already showing excitement for ARKit, Apple's deluge of AR-specific apps will likely dwarf Microsoft's 150 HoloLens-specific apps before the end of the year.

Microsoft must bring AR to market in a form that resonates with consumers.

After two years of legitimate progress but "consumer silence," Microsoft's AR efforts are poised to be overshadowed by Apple's less advanced, but consumer-focused strategy. Microsoft needs an AR strategy that brings its more advanced HoloLens technology to market in a form that resonates with consumers.

HoloLens is not ready for public use

One of the advantages to Apple's AR strategy is that it utilizes the socially accepted iPhones and iPads, which people carry daily. The downside is that iPhones and iPads must be awkwardly handheld and pointed at various surfaces to "reveal" AR objects.

By contrast, HoloLens, which is comfortably worn on the head, displays holographic objects in a wearer's field of view and provides spatial sound. A user's hands are unencumbered, and via gestures, voice, and gaze he can interact with the HoloLens-generated holographic world.

Hands-free use of SketchAR for HoloLens.

Microsoft's challenge is that unlike iPhones no one carries a HoloLens around, and priced at $3,000 it's exceedingly expensive. Even if it were affordable and more people owned one the aesthetically unappealing headset is not something many self-respecting consumers (or even socially awkward geeks) would don for a trip into town. Appearing in public wearing a technologically cool wearable computer is, from a social perspective, technically uncool.

So what can Microsoft do to combat the price, social stigma and practical application challenges it faces in bringing HoloLens tech to consumers? Sure HoloLens is a wearable Windows 10 computer that can do what any other Windows PC can do. There are therefore a plethora of things for which a consumer can use it. Introducing this unique tech with too broad a scope could be confusing and intimidating, however.

Focusing on a specific category from which Microsoft can later expand is a better strategy.

For entertainment purposes only

The living room fireplace used to be the central gathering place in homes. That "fireplace experience" has been largely replaced by the TV.

Nielsen reports that for the 2016-2017 TV season there are 118 million TVs in U.S. households. Worldwide TV penetration for 2016 was 1.59 billion, and by 2021 that number is expected to be 1.68 billion. The average American spends four hours a day watching television. This amounts to 28 hours a week, two months a year and by age 65, nine whopping years of one's life.

Of the 118 million U.S. homes with televisions, Nielsen reports 23 percent use a streaming device such as a Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, Apple TV or Google Chromecast. Smart TVs are also in 29 percent of U.S. homes.

In addition to these devices, 42 percent of homes own connected, streaming-capable, game consoles like Xbox, Nintendo Wii or PlayStation Nielsen claims.

Xbox as living room media hub.

Xbox as living room media hub.

In January of this year, streaming devices like Roku were used by 18 percent of American homes, for 15 days out of the month and three hours a day, reports Nielsen. Other less popular brands were used 11 days out of the month for two hours a day. Game consoles like Xbox were used the most, by 37 million households for gaming and streaming 15 days out of the month for up to 4 hours a day.

With the growing availability of broadband, connected devices are becoming increasingly popular. There are currently an estimated 673 million connected TVs worldwide, according to market researcher Statista's prediction. This internet-connected media environment where streaming and gaming abound is the prime place for Microsoft to "meet consumers where they are" with a new "type of screen."

HoloLens media for home

There's a market that Microsoft (or a competitor) can take advantage of where the stationary physical TV screen can be replaced by a virtual screen that follows the user throughout the home.

Microsoft, with the Movies and TV app, Xbox, Groove, Windows 10 and HoloLens, has the technical foundations for building a media platform with AR as the virtual screen. I envision a pared down HoloLens that has basic capabilities of projecting AR objects and has stereo sound that is less sophisticated than the spatial sound of the current HoloLens. These tradeoffs are to make this consumer version of HoloLens more affordable.

This device would be targeted at consumers as a home appliance of sorts. It would be a "modern screen" that you'd eventually pick up and put on almost thoughtlessly as you walk into your home and turn on the TV. This HoloLens would still be somewhat bulky and unappealing to wear in public. But as something meant for the home, where we comfortably walk around in raggedy robes, holey socks, hair rollers and other "not-for-public-view-attire," this fashion-challenged device fits right in.

HoloLens down the line

Microsoft could market "HoloLens Media for Home" as a tool for TV, streaming video, and gaming. I imagine that just as with the first TVs, most homes that can afford one will be able to afford just one. But in time, as costs drop, like most members of a family currently have their own TV, each member in a family will have a HoloLens.

Game streaming to HoloLens.

I imagine different people in different rooms, homes, cities, and countries watching the same program while talking to one another (with real-time translate if necessary) over the built in microphone much like a multiplayer game experience. A holographic telepresence (holoportation) is also a possibility.

The media aspects I proposed would be Microsoft's way to get HoloLens to consumers but that would not be the endgame. In time, as IoT and ambient computing becomes commonplace, the Home HoloLens may become the means by which users "see" and interact with digital interfaces of IoT appliances in the home. As the tech becomes more refined, users will venture out of their homes with the AR wearables where they will interact with digital interfaces that may begin populating the public sphere.

However, before Microsoft gets a refined HoloLens out into the public and potentially one day replaces our smartphones with it, it must meet consumers where they are now. That place is likely the central meeting place in the home: right in front of the TV.

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

41 Comments
  • Thanks for Reading folks!!! Microsoft needs to get its AR platform and HoloLens into the public eye before Apple devours mindshare with it's less sophisticated AR offering. What I proposed is possibly one way of doing that, but what do you think? Do you agree, disagree or have you own ideas about how Microsoft can get its AR vision to the masses? LET'S TALK!!!
  • Microsoft definately needs time to bring Minecraft to the Hololens! And I am not saying anything ridiculous. MS launches minecraft on Hololens and dominated the AR market for next 20 years! That's my statement, remember it and share with others;")
  • Let's just cut the BS... Jason, you're no longer an employee of Mobile Nations. You're let go. Enjoy your weekend because Monday you start your new job here at Microsoft Redmond Campus. Yes, that's right, I'm appointing you to Chief Officer of Planning, and Development. The job starts at only $220k, but if you exceed your goals there is room for bonus. So don't worry, you'll be fine... I ask that you gather up all of your editorials for our Monday morning meeting. I'd like to spend the first week reviewing your ideas, and implementing them ASAP. And, if you don't mind, Monday afternoon,, meeting with Satya, the entire Surface team, and I; they've been wanting to get your thorough input on a new project I think you might have interest in.
    Well, it's nice to have you onboard. Enjoy your long weekend, and thanks again.
  • Fantasies LOL :P
  • If he could, you know he would.
  • I think the breakthrough will be in the car. You can wear a headset there because you don't mind looking silly, you need to go hands free, you can leverage an AR maps app and others that will add immediate value. If you can prove that the headset improves safety, drivers will buy it. Cyclists might too.
  • Please, make him stop ALREADY! And the main page has spelling errors.
  • Meanwhile, Apple is adding AR to devices that consumers are already using. 
  • You're absolutely right Tom😎 And that's a point I strongly emphasized in the piece and one of the reasons for the article. You caught that in your reading the piece though right? 👍🏿
  • And Microsoft is adding AR to devices that consumers are already using. Actually, that is not correct. Microsoft added AR to devices that consumers are using today. Apple is behind, again. And while the Apple fans, Tiny Tim, and other Apple supporters like to claim that the Apple Watch is selling like crazy, they are not. The Apple AR device will sell even less. Apple likes to talk about gorilla arm with Windows touch screen, having to reach out and touch the screen occasionally. With Apple you need to hold your device out, arms straight, keep them there. But somehow that will not give you gorilla arm? And imagine people carrying their iPad Pros 3 feet infront of them, walking around town - not going to happen. That is not to say that Microsoft's version will sell like crazy. I have one on order but I am not going to be carrying around my headset with me wherever I go. But it will get plenty of use at home.
  • Dont forget planet of the apps happened,
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj5PcuGjdDc
    They've already lost the "cool" factor.
  • To answer your question, no, people won't carry their iPad Pros around town for AR, but it makes for a great "Beta" platform for the technology, so consumers do not need to buy a dedicated product just to be guinea pigs... for now. 
  • But this is a fresh start for Microsoft and having the newer and more powerful chips to work with allows for a finite # of updates though this is determine by the components of the hardware itself. It is a natural device like the keyboard and mouse since Microsoft claimed the OS is built from the ground up to support it. Is it a cellular device?  
  • The irony being WP7/8 Lumias *had* AR apps. I ran them on my 925. One app let you pick the kind of nearby venue(s) you were interested in. Holding the phone up and turning you would see the venue names and distance info overlaid on the view. IIRC, there was another similar app for locating your friends. I think there was even an app that overlaid information about each venue as you moved down the street. All great ideas that would have been even better on today's (aging)W10M hardware. HoloLens is cool, but this is a huge part of the AR opportunity that Microsoft is apparently wasting while focusing solely on HoloLens.
  • That app was thanks to Nokia.
  • They've had years, if they haven't done it by now there's no chance they could do it in any time frame necessary to compete with apple. Time to move on to the next savior!
  • Because eveything Apple does sells like crazy? OSX is sub 3% of the market. Macs sell OK, but then are quickly converted to Windows. iPads are down 10%+ every quarter, yoy, for years. Apple watch has failed to take the market to where Apple is embarassed to announce numbers. AppleTV is vastly outsold by the competition. All Apple has is the iPhone. But this will be the savior device for Apple?
  • Apple doesn't need a savior device. iPhone will keep them profitable for quite a while. This will just be a supplement and if AR proves to be the next big thing, they will be ready.
  • So what you are saying is that Apple can sit back, relax, bring in money without really doing any work, throw out a new failure product every few years, and it will all be OK because they are making money off of that one product. Meanwhile the successful products they have been relying on (Mac and iPad) have been bringing in less and less money, but specializing on one individual product and basing the entire company on that one product is just fine. I seriously hope you are never allowed to be in any way responsible for running a company.
  • I just said they will be fine for a while. They aren't sitting back either. Most of their products do ok and they will have a dog in the hunt for AR. If AR does become a big thing, it will be hard to compete with Apple's developers. Microsoft is losing the numbers race. The farther they fall behid with consumers, the harder it will be for them to be successful in the future. Whatever product they release in the future will need to be that much better to get over the hump.
  • Apple Watch is actually doing kinda well. Revenue is over 3x all Surface devices combined! If Apple Watch sales are embarrassing, then what would you call Surface sales?
  • The main reason that I look at the "less sophisticated" Apple is simplicity. I am really not excited about AR or VR. I am interested in AI. I just want stuff to simply work. When I start up my ancient MacBook Pro, I don't have to download drivers and updates. Apple's brilliance is their ability to control both hardware and software. That is what Microsoft needs to do without alienating their business partners. Surface is a great start. I do hope that they succeed in this endeavor. I do see a big future for AR/VR and Microsoft needs to get going to get a piece of the action. I'm not sure how Microsoft develops products but, they seem to be bogged down by bureaucracy. If the Surface team has some autonomy then things should be faster and smoother and new products could show up faster. I understand that Microsoft has to tread lightly in some aspects since they do want to sell their software to what at times are their hardware competitors. But, they can keep showing and selling new concepts that others can build on. I am not sure just how much Microsoft wants to be known as a hardware manufacturer. Good article again Jason. Hopefully Microsoft will get going with Hololens. It does look like it may even get me involved in AR/VR...
  • If you don't have updates for your MBP, then you are not getting the updates. I have had a restart prompt on my MBP for a couple weeks because of an OS update. I finally rebooted, there was an iTunes update which I do not use, but it kept prompting me to update with no way to turn it off. So I updated iTunes, and now it is prompting me to restart again. For a media player I need to reboot my computer? So they do need to download updates and drivers (they slip the driver updates in with the regular updates), does that mean Apple is no longer brilliant? And how about how I am prompted twice a day to update my iPad Mini? I click remind me later since there is no "skip this update," and the prompt is shown the next day. Same thing with my iPhone, every day a prompt to update my device. Microsoft put up a notification to update, one that did not block your work and required you to dismiss to continue using your device, and the media was calling for the end of Microsoft. Apple does worse, and you label them brilliant. And so control over a device is now a good thing? Microsoft automatically updating your computer was called a horrible violation of trust, it was a violation of privacy, it was not Microsoft's right to do things I don't want. But Apple forcing updates, updates that you claimed does not happen, is a good thing? Apple went years between updating Mac, is the Mac groups being bogged down by bureaucracy? Microsoft went a year and a half with a SP update, it is bureaucracy slowing them down. Apple waits 4 years to do a simple CPU and GPU update on the Mac Pro, but that is not bureaucracy holding them back? Sorry, but literally everything you wrote is not what we have seen here in the real world.
  • I never said that my MacBook never updates. I implied that it doesn't constantly update. Unlike the HP laptop that I also have updated at least once a week. I don't get screens of death on this mid 2010 MacBook. The HP is now dead and the MacBook is still going. The HP was a more economical model. Not a great experience overall. I just stated how easy it was to have a MacBook. I don't own am iPhone or iPad so I cannot comment on those. I now work for a big company and have worked for massive companies and progress gets slowed by too many people in a decision process. It is just a fact amongst many big companies. I also said that I wasn't sure how Microsoft worked and developed products. I think that Microsoft is very innovative today. More so than Apple at this point. I just wish that they were faster at responding to the market or even bringing new tech to market. So not everything that i wrote was "wrong". Most of it was just observation and opinion. Disagreement is a constant on these forums and posts. It helps me learn new things.
  • Apple is not a threat to Microsoft's VR and AR ambitions. As we know, Apple uses their software only on their own hardware. And not everyone wants to buy an expensive device from Apple. So Apple will never get more marketshare than ~40%.
    The only real threat is Google, but I can't see a strategy behind Google's efforts. As in the smartphone space, there are at least two ecosystems which are most popular, and HoloLens is already one of them.
  • I think Google is invested mostly in vr, with their daydream stuff. For AR they seem to be invested in that weird company out of Florida. I dont think google is able to launch an original product until someone else does it first. 
  • Project Tango has been around for a few years now.
  • Yeah, Google is always been a threat to Microsoft than Apple. Microsoft and Google usually have similar offerings competing each other while Apple just fine being within their bubble as long as its profitable enough. Apple will sure is investing on AR, that's for their own good too for their company remain relevant, but Google will surely want to get a largest pie and getting OEMs on board to their own ecosystem in which Microsoft can be directly affected. Apple is indeed uses their own software on their own hardware, and they are fine with it. Google on the other hand really does wants more and way more aggressive.
    At the moment, Google seems not doing much on AR, but they already expiremented with Google Glass which didn't went well for potential consumer use, but they are looking at the enterprise which is likely going to have a success. Google Day Dream is a VR solution of Google, but that's just a step towards AR, not to mention that they are investing on one AR company which is quite shady at first, but why Google is investing so much on them in the first place?
  • HoloLens as a technology is brilliant, as a product it is deeply flawed. It has no place in the life of people, I cannot see whole families or work crews running around with such a helmet. So is Apples offering. I