Marketing departments throughout the valley have been touting their gadget as the next big thing for years now, but nothing has been as revolutionary as the last big thing — the iPhone…until now.
Microsoft’s HoloLens is the next big thing.
It won’t blow your mind in the way that Oculus VR might…but after using it nearly everyday for a few weeks you’ll one day realize. This thing is actually pretty useful.
It’s usefulness is the same sort of slow burn the original iPhone had. The iPhone was great and all but Blackberry already had nearly all the same features. Once the App Store came out, however, and more apps were made for the iPhone it became increasingly useful and integral to our modern lives eventually leading it to become “the big thing.”
The HoloLens is the same sort of reaction. It’s breath taking when you first try it on, but after playing robot raid and a littering your office with holograms you’re kinda like so what? If you get over that initial hump and keep using it the device becomes nearly as embedded in my work flow as my phone. When I watch youtube videos or movies I just sit in bed and plop the screen on the ceiling. I don’t need to hold a hot heavy computer or hold my phone up. Instead of switching between windows on my monitors I just place screens all over the place so I effectively have 6 monitors.
There are few things that Microsoft really nailed with this product that make it so great.
I routinely wear the device for 3 - 4 hours at a time and have never had any issues. Once you’ve adjusted it properly it fits well and you hardly notice it. So many of these gadgets that you wear are incredibly uncomfortable or force you to contort your eyes after a short period of time (cough Google Glass cough.) Using the HoloLens feels about as comfortable as wearing over ear headphones for extended periods of time.
Microsoft’s Edge browser is fully capable of playing videos, gifs, and just generally doing everything a normal browser does on a computer. This may not seem like a big deal but when the first iPhone came out no videos would play in the early Safari and it vastly limited how you could use the device, granted it was a very different web back then. Equipping HoloLens with a fully capable browser makes it much more useful to integrate into your workflow despite the limited app selection currently available for it.
Spatial mapping is the secret sauce that makes the device work so much better than any other augmented reality platform I’ve tried. It maps out the surrounding space and saves it. The device tracks your position inside that room and where you are in relation to the holograms (like a monkey) you’ve put down. Because of how large a map you can store, I’ve mapped my whole apartment. This has enabled me to navigate the place just from hearing where the objects are using an app some friends and I cooked up for the device.
The mapping also makes it possible to identify objects to a decent extent and every 3D map on those objects so you can “see” inside of the objects. At CES this year there was a great demo by Bosch demonstrating a mechanic looking at a Honda Motorbike and being able to learn about the bike just by virtually taking it apart.
App developers are already beginning to expand what you can do with the device. Instead of just using it for extra screens in your workflow there are already powerful collaborative architecture programs such as SketchUp’s viewer and medical examiners being able to see inside the body.
We are still in early days of the device, but perhaps what excites me the most is the democratization of knowledge.
With the HoloLens you could look at your car, open up a HoloLens app for your car. The HoloLens could communicate with your car and the car could relay the diagnostic information directly to the HoloLens. You can then see where the problem is in the car. How to fix that problem and what tools and parts you'll need as well as estimated repair time. That is revolutionary!
All you need to do is follow an augmented reality tutorial on how to fix or do nearly anything. It’s like a video game tutorial in real life. Putting together Ikea furniture or replacing your shattered phone screen would be as simple as pulling up the relevant tutorial and performing actions displayed in front of you.
Technology is enabling us to get more information into our heads quicker and quicker. This is allowing us to learn faster and easier than ever before. In 3 - 5 years when HoloLens are significantly smaller you will be able to just look at something and know the best way to accomplish the task.
While the HoloLens we have today is an incredible feat of engineering and tantalizing look at the future of education and the workplace there are still many drawbacks to consider for today’s version.
Consuming information is easy, but typing and otherwise interacting with the content is a chore. While the Hololens makes a great screen its input methods limits the potential. It is the most convenient screen for the user but as the technology matures it’s connection with other devices will be the key driver of its success. using your phone as an input device for screen in front of your eyes could make the most sense for now. Looking around your house or office while wearing the device and you will be able to see all the relevant information for anonymous technologies like your lights, window, car, thermostat, etc.
The battery is actually pretty good. I routinely watch full length movies on the device so it’s much better than I expected, but the battery doesn’t charge. I will leave it plugged in all night and have it go from 40% to 60%. Most of the time it just doesn’t charge. If I plug it into my computer I’ll get a pop up every minute or so letting me know I just plugged the device in. Maybe it’s just my HoloLens, but so far the battery charging or lack there of has been a frustrating downside to such an incredible device.
Field of View
The actual active area of the device is small. Not google glass tiny, but pretty limiting when you want to watch a movie and you can’t expand it to surround your view like you might get in a theater or if you put your phone an inch from your face. The field of view is about as much if you put your phone 4 inches from your face and tried to look at your world through that size, it doesn’t really limit the usefulness of the device but it can be a small gripe when playing some of the games developers have made such as robot raid where robots can come from anywhere around you.
This is the first real augmented reality glasses and it shows its first generation nature. Despite some of the rough edges the device is is breath taking experience to use and gives us a promising glimpse into the future of education technology and how we consume information.
All in all an incredible device that is currently putting Microsoft at the forefront of the augmented reality wars and is a strong indication of the second renaissance we will have when these hit the mass market in 3 - 5 years.