Microsoft HoloLens: Just Another Gimmick Or Real Innovation?

26 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Could Microsoft’s HoloLens Be The Real Deal?.

REDMOND — Microsoft did not use skydivers or stunt cyclists to introduce what it hopes will be the next big leap in computing technology. Shortly after Microsoft debuted Windows Holographic paired with the HoloLens Augmented Reality headset, upstaging Windows 10 at its own event, my cynicism meter shot up to 11.

‘UNBELIEVABLE’:With strict security in place, the computer software giant impressed the media with its new creation, described as augmented reality goggles Microsoft Corp’s HoloLens goggles have hit a sweet spot between Google Glass and virtual reality headgear, immersing users in a mesmerizing world of augmented reality holograms. The glasses, which the US technology titan sprang on unsuspecting media last week, elicited descriptions such as “magical” and “unbelievable,” the first time in a while such praise was heaped on a Microsoft creation.

A handout image released by Microsoft showing someone using the new Microsoft HoloLens during a Windows 10 press conference in Redmond, Washington, last Wednesday. As I explained in the piece I wrote that day shortly after the event wrapped, it feels important to be skeptical of a product like this when it seems too good to be true. Perhaps I’m jaded, but after nearly a decade covering all sorts of tech, I’ve learned that every time something feels like a leap forward into the future, it’s usually at most a tiny step, and sometimes a complete stumble. My comparison last week was Microsoft’s own Kinect, as back when it was called “Project Natal,” the original preview video showcased a whole host of super-futuristic uses that looked absolutely incredible.

Microsoft executives said the holographic capabilities built into Windows 10 operating software — to be released late this year — would open doors for developers to augment tasks from complex surgery to motorcycle design. HoloLens wearers found themselves standing near a 3D representation of the Rover, free to roam Mars, at times accompanied by a NASA scientist projected into the scene and communicating through Skype. “This is the future of space exploration,” said the scientist, represented by a glowing golden spacesuit reminiscent of vintage science fiction films.

Microsoft said it’s working with Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology on the holographic technology, and the lab would use it for Mars exploration starting in July. “It’s a huge surprise and certainly a risk trying to bring this sort of technology down to consumers,” said Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner, who attended Wednesday’s demonstration. Through a series of scenarios, HoloLens overlaid virtual scenes on real space, allowing wearers to safely and efficiently navigate rooms while engaging with 3D imagery using voice, gaze or gesture. Qualcomm and Intel are among companies that in the past year have demonstrated technology aimed at enabling computers, tablets and phones to show users a picture of the world overlaid with digital images and information.

Using Microsoft’s new holographic tools, architects could walk around their designs while clients are viewing it remotely, said Alex Kipman, a technical fellow in Microsoft’s operating system group. And yet, when all was said and done, the only feature shown in these early demo videos that works as intended today, I would argue, is facial recognition sign-in. Replacing a light switch became a collaborative effort, as one individual with a tablet computer guided the job, overlaying arrows or notes that floated in the air. Now, Kinect is the reason the Xbox One flopped at launch, and has been relegated to the “cone of shame” department of Microsoft’s hardware offerings. A concept video also showed how holographs can be used for creating work-project models and for playing Minecraft, a video game where players build virtual worlds.

But over the last week, I’ve been reading a lot about the HoloLens, including first impressions from a number of outlets that have had it strapped to their faces in live Microsoft demo sessions. In a press demonstration of the Minecraft app, users could blast through a room’s walls and coffee tables to reveal lava and caves behind and underneath. A digital avatar plays the part of a JPL scientist and you can speak and use hand gestures to place digital markers on different rocks in an exercise simulating how scientists may use the system to direct the rover’s exploration.

Facebook Inc founder Mark Zuckerberg has depicted virtual reality as a computing platform poised to succeed the mobile Internet era centered on smartphones and tablets — he backed his belief by buying Oculus VR last year in a US$2 billion deal. Scientific experiments can be planned in the virtual space with another scientist, who appears as a gold figure that resembles a holographic Oscar statuette. People can glance to see text messages, video or other scenes in small displays, and also take pictures or video, controlling the eyewear with voice commands or taps on frames.

A Skype video-conferencing app lets a tablet user, for example, conduct a call in which they draw instructions and demonstrations into another user’s holographic space. It’s also another example of an experience that takes the complex technology out of the way, leaving you to experience what really matters.” – The Verge “But if we’re talking just pure promise—and we are right now—what I saw during my small taste of Microsoft’s take on augmented reality was incredibly arresting. If devices like the HoloLens take off, virtual reality could become more of a route for those seeking escape, while augmented reality expands what we already know and take for granted.” – IGN I could probably keep going with about a dozen more of these, but all have the same impression. Google, which has run into challenges promoting its glass-connected eyewear to consumers, has made some other efforts towards letting devices interact with their surroundings. You can say that people say this about every new piece of technology, but digging through the archives, demo-ers were a bit more subdued about Microsoft’s Project Natal (now Kinect) when they first tried it back in 2010: “For right now, Nintendo is still the undisputed champion of motion-controlled gaming.

Microsoft engineer Alex Kipman said the company had built programming tools, so outside developers could use Windows 10 to create more holographic apps. Microsoft will see what kinds of applications developers write for the holographic tools, though the focus isn’t on social and outdoor scenarios, where Glass was focused. But who knows how the final product will be received.” – Wired “Project Natal is the vision of gaming that’s danced through people’s heads for decades—gaming without the abstraction of controllers, using your body and natural movements…I haven’t been quite this blown away by a tech demo in a long time. Though there was some positive press about the product at times, most of it can probably be summed up by this Venture Beat piece called “Google Glass hands-on: This isn’t and never will be a good device for consumers.” As a Google Glass owner, I can immediately see how it will be incredibly useful for so many kinds of people. But the fact remains that even among a relatively jaded tech press, the HoloLens is really standing out in terms of flesh and blood first impressions, more so than products that would seem to be cautionary tales of failure like the Kinect and Google Glass.

I’d say the praise is more in line with what we’ve seen the Oculus Rift receive for years now, but that comparison doesn’t tell us much given that despite a promised coming wave of VR revolution, we’re still waiting for a consumer product that can prove itself. Follow me on Twitter, like my page on Facebook, and pick up a copy of my sci-fi novel, The Last Exodus, and its sequel, The Exiled Earthborn, along with my new Forbes book, Fanboy Wars.

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