Microsoft HoloLens Hands-On Round-Up!

hololensI think it is safe to say that the coolest thing that came out of Microsoft’s Windows 10 Launch event yesterday was the fact that the Word engine will now be part of Outlook. Well that or the whole holographic augmented reality futuristic glasses thingies. Named the HoloLens, Microsoft has not only dipped their toes into the space of wearable computing but are jumping in cannon-ball style. Microsoft’s device is a middle of the road approach between the Google Glass style of limited view-augmented reality and Oculus’ totally immersive yet closed off virtual reality system. Encompassing a full, yet transparent visor, the HoloLens allows you to have total field of view of your actual environment while overlaying an augmented reality space within your direct vision. Being in the company of the majority who had to watch the reveal online, the only impressions that I had of the reveal were based on the footage shown and the computer generated sizzle reels, thus completely useless. Thankfully the journalists at the event were given the chance to actually use the device and now their impressions are online.

hololens2The general impression is overwhelmingly positive, though the kit the reporters were wearing was much less advanced than the unit on display. While supposedly untethered, the current dev version that journalists got their hands on did not have the processing units in the visor itself, but in a giant multi-pound box hanging around the users neck. It also had a power supply plugged into the wall. In other words, this is not a final unit to any degree.

hololens3Here are some of the thoughts of those who actually had the chance to wear the device:

The Verge: “Overall, HoloLens is Microsoft at its most ambitious. It’s a big bet on the future of computing, the future of Windows, and ultimately the future of Microsoft itself. While the company is struggling at mobile, it wants to catch the next wave of computing and lead. Is HoloLens the next wave? Developers and consumers will be the ultimate test of that, but if anything HoloLens is an incredibly brave and impressive project from Microsoft. It’s true innovation, which is something Microsoft has lacked during its obsession with protecting Windows.”

Gizmodo: “I just put Microsoft’s new holographic glasses on my face. It’s one of the most amazing and tantalizing experiences I’ve ever had with a piece of technology[…] And the reason it was amazing is not because I could see a virtual world, like the Oculus Rift, and not because I could still see my surroundings and not trip over things, like Google Glass. It’s because Microsoft has found a way to merge reality and CG together[…] But it still felt like magic. The blend of real and virtual is as compelling as I’d hoped.”

C-Net: “Granted, it’s probably too early to start making demands of prototype hardware, but that’s the danger Microsoft is running into here. Even in its infancy, HoloLens gives me the augmented reality experience I never knew I wanted, and now I want it again and again.I want my meetings to be held via HoloLens. I want to handle all computer concerns in this augmented wonder world. And I want build a dizzying labyrinth in my tiny apartment that anyone with the right tools can see. But more importantly, I want to see where Microsoft is going to take things next. As it stands, things are looking pretty great.”

Business Insider: But it felt a lot more finished than Oculus, which today shows nothing more than a few short (if really impressive) video loops. It will have APIs that will ship with Windows 10. It has at least a couple of finished applications. It has at least a vague time-frame for shipping. And most important, it felt a lot more like a general-purpose computing tool, with a ton of potential applications for consumers and businesses. HoloLens won’t be material to Microsoft’s business anytime soon. But it shows that Microsoft is still thinking way into the future. Microsoft may have missed the smartphone revolution, but there’s no reason to think that computing stopped evolving when the smartphone became common. Microsoft is certainly taking steps to make sure it has a part in whatever comes next.

And a more dissenting opinion from PC Gamer: “At this point, I’m sold on virtual reality as a great user experience for games and 3D videos and photos. The feeling of “presence” Oculus has attained with its latest headset is incredible. I’m not sold on AR in its current form in the HoloLens. It’s by far the best AR headset I’ve ever seen, but the view is disappointingly limited, and all the demos I saw were too brief, and too staged, for me to get a feel for everyday use of this headset.”

Follow Tom on Twitter @thomaskagar

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