Microsoft, makers of the Xbox One and the Surface 2-in-1 is continuing to push its way into the hardware space. Two years after launching the Surface Pro and less than a year after it purchased Nokia’s devices and services division, the company took to a stage this morning to announce Microsoft HoloLens. Microsoft HoloLens is a headset that projects a custom Windows interface directly in front of the eyes.
On the surface, Microsoft HoloLens might look like a Google Glass competitor, but that’s not necessarily the case. The Microsoft HoloLens shown on stage does look a little like Google’s wearable. It wraps around users head. The front of Microsoft HoloLens has a resting frame for keeping the device upright. Like Google Glass, it overlays its interface on top of whatever users are seeing. As such, answering the phone or moving around the house doesn’t require users to take it off.
What users are seeing is simply projected onto the glass frame in front of them. There are no sensors that users need to wear beyond the headset itself. There are no external cameras tracking where the face is. Microsoft says there are three processors inside and one is specifically for producing the holographic images users see.
That seems to be where the similarities end though. Google Glass is designed to complement devices running Google’s Android operating system. Microsoft HoloLens appears to be much more than that. A concept video shown at today’s Windows 10 Media Briefing showed wearers of Microsoft HoloLens streaming video, checking the weather and look for recipes. One even included a virtual to-do list plastered to a nearby refrigerator. Skype is also shown in a picture on the new Microsoft HoloLens website.
Powering the Microsoft HoloLens is the Windows 10 operating system. Attendees are already getting a chance to play with Microosft HoloLens at the event. Exactly what Microsoft is showing users isn’t clear, but Microsoft’s HoloLens video include Minecraft, the game the company purchased late last year. All told, Microsoft seems poised for another user interface revolution. It was Microsoft who kicked off wireless motion control in games with the original Kinect sensor and added seamless voice commands on top of it. If Microsoft does this right, the company could finally get the credit from hardware lovers that it has lusted after for years.
There are things that could stop the Microsoft HoloLens in its tracks. We don’t yet have a Microsoft HoloLens price, though CEO Sataya Nadella said it would be priced for “consumers.” As HoloLens is a computer and VR headset in one, we could be looking at a ridiculously high price tag for early adopters. The other problem is apps. In the video we see users watching things on Netflix and interacting with little widgets. What the device will do beyond that remains unclear. It’s also worth noting that very little Xbox One integration was shown, despite Microsoft HoloLens appearing in leaked Xbox One documents a few years ago as Fortaleza, a wearable companion for the next generation Xbox.
Most important of all these things is battery life. We don’t know anything about Microsoft HoloLens battery life and in some ways that the most crucial part of the experience. Microsoft is billing HoloLens as a wearable that requires no tethers, smartphones, cords or cables. Being a self-contained device means its limited in the amount of battery power it has to complete all the tasks it needs to. It’s possible that HoloLens could have great battery life. It’s also possible that the device could last just a few hours away from a charger.
We only know that the Microsoft HoloLens will go on-sale sometime “during the Windows 10 time frame.”