HoloLens, Microsoft, VR and Apple

04 Feb 2017

I am really looking forward to a HoloLens event at tretton17 next week, where Jimmy Engström will demonstrate this awesome piece of technology:

HoloLens

I haven’t had the opportunity to try the HoloLens yet (I have to make do with my PlayStation VR…poor me), but I think it looks really promosing. Even if many of the videos I’ve seen have been conceptual future visions of what may come out, it is a really appealing vision.

Alex Kipman’s TED Talk Demo

In this TED, Alex Kipman demonstrates the huge potential with the HoloLens.

My first impression of this vid is that the headset looks super-slick. No cables

  • it just slides on smoothly and lets Alex walk around without cables pulling on his head and keeping him restrained. Most of the VR headsets on the market today (PSVR, Oculus and Vive - not counting the ones where you insert your mobile device, like the Gear) are amazing, but limits a fluent interaction with the virtual world, since the cables become umbilical cord that constantly interferes with your native movement. This actually makes me not enjoy 360 environments as much in PS VR, as I do when use products like the Samsung Gear or the Cardboard…which are cordless.

Second, the solution where a video camera can wear a second HoloLens and see what the person wearing the headset sees, is so cool. I first saw this at a Microsoft conference, where a camera recorded a person looking at a table, when suddenly a Minecraft world slides up from the table and appears to be standing on the table. This makes it so much easier to relate to the technology…and fun when you watch the stage and find it to be empty while the screens show how amazing environments are being displayed to the user.

Third, I first thought that Alex had a black tattoo on one of his finger, but it turned out to be a device that lets you “feel” the virtual world. You could see the device being placed over his palm, when he opened his hands. I don’t know how well this technology works, but making haptic feedback easily available without requiring that you actively hold a device (like the PS Move) seems really amazing.

Finally, Alex brings a friend on stage - a friend that is a couple of blocks away, being recorded by a 3D camera while wearing a HoloLens of his own. They talk and the guy is interviewed and it all is sooo natural, until you watch the stage and find it empty. Sure, the technology is not 100% - with some blur and inaccurate foot rendering…but it’s soooo cool when you think of where this technolgy will be in 10 years.

TL;DR To sum up this video, this are the key takeaways:

  • Super-slick headset - no cables, easy to put on
  • Nice to be able to record how a user experiences the augmented reality
  • Really cool hand-device that let’s you “feel” the environment
  • Amazing demo of virtual meetings

Microsoft - the future?

What is so amazing with the HoloLens, is that it so clearly shows the difference between the Microsoft and Apple of today. The HoloLens is more of an idea and a vision than a consumer-ready product, but Microsoft chose to actively demonstrate it at its current state - not revealing it while also announcing to launch it as a consumer product.

Now, this all puts Apple in a strange position. Apple could never have done what Microsoft does now, at least not with the shackles of today. Today, they live on a reputation of releasing amazing technology “that just works”. When they reveal a new product - it’s ready to be sent to all corners of the world. Demonstrating unfinished stuff is not Apple’s style.

I love Apple and their products, but I think this perfection comes with a price. Without this reputation and the restrictions it brings, Microsoft can become the new innovative force that shows what they work on years before they ever release it, if they ever do.

Now, to be fair, given Apple’s financial success with the current business model, they may not want this position at all…and who could blame them for it? Still, this doesn’t change the fact that this makes Microsoft the “cool” and “exciting” company…which is something that has been reserved for Apple for many years now.

Exciting times! :)

Where to next?

When discussing VR with friends and colleagues, some think that VR is now proven to be a failed technology. I could not disagree more.

Sure, PSVR is by no means perfect. Nor is the HTC Vive and I guess this also goes for the HoloLens. However, I think it’s important to recognize that perfection is not the most important thing at this time. Don’t get me wrong - the technology must naturally work, but these products of today doesn’t have to be perfect, at least not at this time. The most important thing for the products of today, is to show that the technology works and to set a course for the future, where such a course can be set by both identifying what works and what does not work.

Many of us grown ups have been waiting out whole lives for VR to work. I am sooo happy to now, after buying the so-so Sony HMZ-T1 some years ago, finally have an amazing VR experience in my living room. The technology works. Now, we just need to iterate upon the technology, make the hardware better, the user interface more intuitive, the lag less noticable…and find new ways in this new exciting world.