Thinking really different

Could the HoloLens be Microsoft’s iMoment?

Back at the turn of the century, Apple had already reclaimed a bit of momentum with the release of the iMac following the return of Steve Jobs. But his announcement of the iPod in October 2001 really marked the birth of the Apple we know today, at least cinematically. The Jobs movie of 2013 opens with Ashton Kutcher unveiling the music device.

There are parallels between the iPod and HoloLens. Both represented a tight integration of hardware and software and both come in market categories where there were early signs of interest but no strong mass market adoption. And both represented fairly radical departures for their companies into the unknown.

Minecraft in HoloLens.
Minecraft in HoloLens.

But there are also fundamental differences between the Apple that Jobs returned to and the Microsoft that Satya Nadella inherited a year ago. For one, despite the blows that Microsoft has taken, its overall financial health has remained excellent. Apple, on the other hand, was on its deathbed when Jobs returned; he, unlike Nadella, was a co-founder. That said, Nadella has recognized the value of “founder DNA” by asking Bill Gates to devote more of his time to Microsoft. Furthermore, the iPod was originally conceived as a complementary accessory to the Mac. The HoloLens, unlike the iPod, is an independent device, albeit one that extends Microsoft’s Windows franchise.

So, perhaps the HoloLens is more akin to the iPhone, which shrunk down the capabilities of not the user interface of the PC. Indeed, Microsoft has positioned the HoloLens as “the next PC” although the smartphone has already claimed that mantle and Windows 8 showed that the company can get a little overzealous in labeling things “PCs.”

But the HoloLens is at once more capable and less capable than the iPhone. On one hand, it is something of a superplatform that breaks with the decades-long miniaturization progression from mainframe to minicomputer to desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone, wearable and coming wave of products that will live inside the body. The display of those products have generally been limited by the physical boundaries of glass. The HoloLens, though, can incorporate the 2D interfaces of yore to enable applications like Skype.

On the other hand, despite its recent growth spurt, much of the power of the iPhone remains in its pocketable size ability to get through (most of) a day on power. While the efficiency of the HoloLens will likely improve over time, it’s still unlikely to be a ubiquitous device for the near future. Microsoft isn’t exactly giving up on the smartphone market for HoloLens.

The iPod and iPhone took things that people had already accepted (portable audio via the Walkman and cell phones) and imbued them with capabilities and design beyond their predecessors. Apple Watch is on track to continue that approach. The HoloLens, though, is something without strong precedent, an untested behavior.

Alas, in that way it is somewhat reminiscent of the company’s original Surface table. It represents a new frontier, but one that doesn’t yet have a clear trail.

27 Responses to “Could the HoloLens be Microsoft’s iMoment?”

  1. Maybe Apple will steal it and make it better and affordable, like they did with pocket PC?

    Ms, it’s great.. But.. What are you thinking???
    Announce with fanfare AND purchase plan, and stores open where you can buy it now!!

  2. i’m getting HoloLens when it comes out because I work for a software company and we make software for the latest gadgets now I am tinkering with Google Glass but when HoloLens comes out that will be what I will be tinkering with.

  3. dreamtiger

    In order for HoloLens to be Microsoft’s iMoment, it would have to be real. I’ll bet it’s just a flashy graphical demo, basically a little movie, with any practical application years away. The idea is exciting, but will Microsoft actually be able to do this in 2015? I doubt it.

    • Aunty Troll

      Have you heard of Google? It’s a really good search engine which let’s you find out about all sorts of things. If you do a search for HoloLens you will find a multitude of quite popular websites in which their journos have actually seen and used the thing.

      It’s been announced. It’s been demonstrated. It’s APIs are in the current Windows10 builds. It’s SDKs are being released at MS Build end of April.

      It’s very real :)

    • Are you serious? There are literally dozens of well respected tech journalists and sites that have demoed the beta version after the press conference with everyone saying it was amazing. They did mention that the demo gear was not the slick headset we saw in the on stage presentation but it was tethered to a box worn around your neck and had chips and wires protruding. But supposedly MS said they have fully functional versions of the model displayed on stage. They are even committing to a release time table, even if vague, of “will be available in the Windows 10 release timetable”.

      Next time you make a comment, please do some research.

  4. An important thing that was overlooked in the article and the comments is that HoloLens has spatial awareness. I read bloggers’ reviews, and many of them mentioned the ability to “pin” a window to a location in the room and it “stayed” there. I think the spatial awareness is a feature that nicely differentiates HL from other devices/concepts and has some real world usefulness.

  5. Hololens AR and Oculus VR are both pushing the desktop end of the user spectrum. They’re about more intensive/focused use rather than rather than lower intensity constant use that the mobile end including Glass was about. Even though Holo and Glass are both AR, they address entirely different use.

  6. You don’t really get it at all.
    First the hardware and the software are not even close to ready, second it’s just a Google Glass for both eyes with a more consistent frame and Kinect/Project Tango
    Third in it’s current form it’s functionality (the hardware is not what you think) and value are very limited while the price is rather high. Oculus has a huge TAM that can be expanded , Glass was far cheaper and functional (because it wasn’t inside only) Lens is far less. If you want a forced comparison you could say it’s like the early smartphones that had limited reach.

    But the most important point to make is that it’s not about the hardware, the next OS battle is for glasses and the transition to a new form factor is an opportunity to win or lose. Microsoft lost in smartphones but here (since Google has been sleeping) they might have taken the lead and that’s what really matters Ofc it’s early ,the battle hasn’t really started but at least they are not sitting it out.

      • They didn’t but it’s not that hard to estimate a range for the cost depending on available paths ( fast/slow SoC , LTE or not) and factoring in similar margins to their smartphones and tabs. It is smartphone/tab like hardware with projectors instead of a screen.
        In theory they could take a hit on margins to enable a lower price but that’s not really their style and might not be enough to really make it a hit product so why bother. Maybe they do have some good ideas yet to be disclosed for some “killer apps” that up it’s value, if not then the next generations will get closer to what they need to be.

        • Kunal Nanda

          I believe that Microsoft’s strategy with HoloLens is to NOT make it too mobile, as in driving in your car, going to a pub with the HL on. Secondly, you don’t need LTE if you are at home, WiFi should be your mode of connection. Just like XB1, they don’t need a superfast processor, just a finely tuned one. And yes, this is just a prototype, albeit a living breathing one. We will wait for a finished product in the next few months.

        • No, I’ve read up the info on this and to make kinect its seriously like 20 dollars. Also experts have said it’ll be around the 400-500 dollar range if they want it to reach consumers. There’s more info on this I just can’t find it but this is clearly designed to be used as a “Hey I have one too!” product. They want this product to be mainstream.

    • tmeyer2000

      “just a Google Glass for both eyes” understates the case a bit.

      Just as there were smart phones before the iPhone, Hololens defines AR in a way we imagined it, but struggled to instantiate. In effect MS has created technology to play with your brain’s image processing, which to me is breathtaking.

      Glass in comparison was a hack job. Oculus is simply VR, nice for games, but not the real deal.

      • You might be imagining what HL is instead of looking for info, it’s not as exciting as some headlines make it. .What has M$ done new here? Nothing on the hardware side and all software concepts are Glass derived. Oh yeah you can half Skype – half because the other end of the conversation can’t see you- lets all jump around in joy like the publications that get M$ advertising money and leaks.
        Glass was a developer device not a consumer product, you just assume a retail product was identical or at least similar. Even the dev device was much easier to market and more functional than HL It could have been priced at bellow 200$ and drop fast towards 100$. What exactly do you do with HL to justify paying 500-600$ or even more? It’s cool and then? After the 15 mins of cool are gone ,you discard it?
        Oculus is just VR like this one is just AR, at some point they’ll merge. The gaming market is a huge marker, Oculus is simple and has a low BOM and it’s just a screen with no touch and a few small chips. A5.5 inch 1080p screen was 21$ in December , likely 20$ now, sure they would likely go with 1440p or 4k and maybe even curved but it’s still way cheap to make and very reasonable retail prices can be reached. Oculus is just a display and sure gamers are the first market, then video, you still got 220-250 mil TVs selling every year and some monitors, they can go after that market too, a little with the first gen and expand as the hardware gets better. Oculus found a much better entry point than M$. HL is not where it needs to be to matter as a consumer product and sell tens of millions of units(in a quarter).
        You also have to ask yourself why M$ was in such a rush to show HL, we might see something similar in retail next week(Google/Mattel) or next month(MWC).

        • You immediately lose all credibility when you spell MS like a video game console warrior. VR and AR may merge but it will be way down the road. Both still need to prove themselves in the tech world, something neither has done. In the near future (10-15 yrs) AR has a much more plausible opportunity to integrate itself into the everyday world on the level of modern smartphones because of both its wear ability and broad functionality. VR is currently highly limited and relegated as only for entertainment.

        • You missed the point. Google glasses were advertised as a device that basically let you record video. That’s why they used sky divers to announce it. Also it was a dev device that never produced a compelling application. That’s why Google dropped it along with the market perception.
          Microsoft on the other hand at least demoed potential uses that looked like good use cases. VR and gaming is going to be a niche market for a long time because of isolation. Hardcore gamers will like them, but they are already in their basements, dorms, bedrooms, etc. The rest of the population that interacts with people will find it hard. What do you do when your phone rings, go to the bathroom, someone’s at the door? Unstrap the things from you head, reorient yourself and hopefully not be dizzy.

        • I think you overlook business uses. Google glass is not ar. I sent mine back within a week of receiving it. It does not overlay anything in your field of vision. Having to look up all the time to use it is extremely uncomfortable. Also there is definite use for 1way video conference. Our customer service department wanted to try glass so that an operator in an office could remotely assist someone on the far end while they had both hands free. Overnighting a device or giving them to distributors can save thousands of dollars compared to sending a technician around the world. Unfortunately Google removed all video calling the day I received glass. I for one am excited to try out hololens in our business.

    • HoloLens is very different than glasses. 1) it’s self contained 2) HoloLens sees your environment with the ability to “stick” objects you can move around. 3) it runs Windows 10 which means any developer can write an app or port an existing app.

      As far as it being ready they are having sessions at MS build conference in April for developers. NASA is going to be using it in May. And it’s going to be available in the fall.

      • And don’t forget that it seems positioned for in-home and commercial use, not as a fashion accessory that you would wear walking around the street. Although I can see it going there once the tech is miniaturized down to the size of a pair of Ray Bans :)

    • Bill Smtih

      What? This is nothing like Glass. It is an independent system with it’s own operating system that can run stand-alone. Also, the product is very close to being launched and will be released with Windows 10 in October/November timeframe. The killer app that will instantly give Hololens an immediate addressable market is Minecraft, hence the strategic $2.5B acquisition last year. It provides a huge sales channel to successfully launch the product.

  7. Charles T

    No, when compared to the 3d TV spurt, it was a novelty, that nobody even used. A product created and ended up in the dump within two years. People who bought a 3d tv, never used it, cause it hurt peoples eyes. So they used the old tv and the new 3d tv collected dust. Than look at adoption rate and you see it will be gamers, video game consumer that will buy the product as halo lens was originally designed back in 2012 and got no traction cause it was not practical. The technology is not there yet and will never be given the target price point is int he hundreds and optics will cost in the thousands.

    People just want to work, not play. THis will only makes progress Slower. Companies will never buy. Its an xbox product, but since Windows has been over engineered past its prime, they are willing to try anything, even if they fail.

    Another failure, just like Mobile-First, and the consolidation of other groups profits into the cloud, the cloud has failed.

    MS has taken all the products that made money and forced the consumer to buy an online service. The failure by this new CEO to understand, and change is what will bring down this negative company.

    Second, the hololens has a front facing camera, JUST like the google glass. Glass failed cause it was creepy and caused eye damage. It seems MS never learns.

    • Kunal Nanda

      I dont think you have ever used a 3D TV. There are 2 main 3D technologies – Passive vs Active. The Passive 3D is what is used in cinemas these days and this does not cause any headaches or “hurt peoples eyes”. The Active tech is where the problem is due to the flickering of the lens.

      The rest of your comment just don’t make any sense.