When Microsoft introduced HoloLens four years ago, it allegedly changed the industry. But did it really? I mean, you can’t really buy a HoloLens, and its applications have largely been relegated to an assortment of niche enterprises purposes and potentially the military. To me, HoloLens was incredibly promising tech that always seemed like it was on cusp of greatness, but was missing one or two critical elements from making that happen. The Hololens 2 seems to be fixing that and Microsoft spent a good hour talking up how this will be the enterprise tool of the near future, but some weird messaging intended to entice us non-enterprise people certainly muddled the message.
But first the part of the message that wasn’t muddled. The HoloLens 2, Microsoft’s ambitious mixed reality headset, could be the second chance Microsoft needs. From the start, with HoloLens 2, Microsoft is hoping to address three of the biggest critiques people had about its first-gen headset: immersion, comfort and value.
For immersion, Microsoft says it has doubled the HoloLens 2's field of view without decreasing its 47 pixels per degree-of-sight resolution (that’s very close to the coveted 60ppd some claim is the point individual pixels can no longer be distinguished by the human eye). But on top of that, the HoloLens 2 now has eye-tracking and iris scanning, so you can log into your headset just by putting it, while the headset tracks your vision in order to identify what you’re looking at.
But the biggest upgrade to the HoloLens 2's immersive abilities is fully articulated hand-tracking that allows you to interact with the holograms as if they were real. And as a nod to overall usability, the HoloLens 2 also features improved microphones so you can do things like call faraway apps or objects to your side without needing to physically walk over and grab them.
As for comfort, Microsoft says that to create HoloLens 2, the company first scanned the heads of thousands of people from various races and ethnicities to create a headset designed to be comfortable on pretty much anyone. Microsoft claims putting on the HoloLens 2 should be as comfortable as putting on your favorite hat.
The HoloLens 2 is construced out of a mix of plastic and carbon fiber, so that what little weight there is sitting on your head, rests evenly without pinching or pushing on pressure points. All told, Microsoft hails the HoloLens 2 as three times more comfortable than the original.
However, the HoloLens 2's biggest hurdle is making it economically attractive to potential clients. Currently, Microsoft says businesses require between three to six months just to develop the software needed to make its headset worth using. But with the company’s experience deploying HoloLens over the last four years, Microsoft claims it has used feedback from customers, and tools developed during that time to create software packages suited to workers in medicine, architecture, and others industries.
Another way Microsoft HoloLens 2 could provide value is that it can also serve as a telepresence machine, allowing workers from all over the globe to collaborate with each in a shared virtual space. At Microsoft’s press event at MWC, the company showed a demo where employees from Mattel were able to view 3D models of upcoming toys in virtual space, so as to better understand and improve their design without needing to physically be in the same room. Microsoft even claims to offer the ability to simply say a word and have HoloLens 2 create a hologram that of that object. These objects can then be grouped, shared, and organized however you want.
And for all the companies who previously were forced to customize their headsets to fits their individual business needs, Microsoft is launching a customization suite that allows business to tweak the HoloLens 2 to fit their needs. So for industries like construction, Microsoft was able to partner with Trimble to create a HoloLens 2 headset featuring a certified work site safe helmet built in.
And of course, with Microsoft massive investment in cloud computer through its Azure platform, HoloLens 2 should have the ability to connect to servers to build and share holograms with ease.
Yet towards the end of today’s event, Microsoft began to confuse its own message by talking about something that might make enterprise customers nervous—an open ecosystem. Micrsoft laid out a few tenets to govern how HoloLens 2 software works and operates and is pledging that the HoloLens app store will be open to all sorts of developers, will feature open web browsing, and will be based on an open platform accessible to all levels of users and developers.
Then it brought out the head of Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite, who spoke of how delighted he was the HoloLens 2's application platform would be open and made a pledge that Epic Games would be committed to an open ecosystem as well.
Open ecosystems and game developers aren’t usually what one associates with enterprise-focused platforms like the HoloLens 2 appears to be. Those comments all seemed to be intended for the rest of us. Nods that one day the HoloLens could move out of the enterprise space and into our homes. Just don’t expect that anytime soon. Microsoft’s second-gen mixed reality headset will be available later this year, and will go for a one-time price of $3,500 or be available for monthly payments of $125 a month. That’s at least $1,500 less than the original HoloLens, but still far from what any general consumer would want to spend.