Just when you think the week couldn’t get any wilder, Microsoft unveiled the HoloLens 2 and tech enthusiasts around the world all cried out in a single harmonious gasp. The Jedi sure are gonna feel this one. But do the features of the HoloLens 2 warrant such early accolades and will it make mixed reality experiences that much more immersive? Everyone got a good look at the new HoloLens during Microsoft’s Keynote at the Mobile World Conference and now its the talk of the town. Representatives at Microsoft boast the device has more than double the original design’s field of view (FOV) plus an array of other upgrades but what does this mean for the future of mixed reality?
The HoloLens 2
The full potential of the HoloLens2 was in full display at MWC 2019. A hushed crowd eagerly soaked up a presentation by some of Microsoft’s top folks; Alex Kipman, Satya Nadella, and Julia White. The message was clear, this was big news. As more and more examples of sophisticated mixed reality experiences become available and following updates to Windows Mixed Reality, and Kinect, more robust hardware was needed to unlock the full power of mixed reality. The HoloLens 2 simply a piece of the puzzle as Microsoft unleashes a full-court press on XR.
Double Your FOV, Double Your Fun
You can’t be the ultimate mixed reality device unless you also feature the largest field of view. Astute observers note that an earlier patent from Microsoft claimed they could double the FOV of the original HoloLens. By all accounts, and from what we’ve seen this claim is true. Demos and reports from industry experts have shown the diagonal field of view on this updated HoloLens is 52° and that’s just amazing.
This vast improvement over the first HoloLens also comes with no degradation in resolution thanks to Microsoft’s 2K MEMS displays. Generally, increasing the FOV reduces the resolution the user perceives but the HoloLens 2 maintains the pixel density of the original HoloLens (47 pixels per degree or PPD). Premium VR headsets like the HTC Vive Pro have a mere 16 PPD. The increased field of view combined with this high resolution give content creators much more to work with.
Eye Tracking, Hand Tracking & Voice Commands
Microsoft went to great lengths to study and refine how most people preferred to interact with the UI on the HoloLens. It became clear just how important precision hand tracking was for the average user in mixed reality. Accurately controlling the experience using your hands is a cornerstone of how the HoloLens 2 works. During an on-stage demo, it was shown that the user’s hands will be a primary means of interacting with objects and information. Objects light up and react to the touch and can be enlarged, moved around and more with simple gestures.
One of the most innovative parts of the new HoloLens UI was how natural and intuitive it all felt. In addition to moving, rotating and generally playing with objects, Microsoft also introduced a range of navigation and other UI controls that again felt natural. This allows users to focus on the content and enjoy a more immersive experience.
Eye tracking features were no less impressive as some MWC 2019 attendees were amazed at how it intuitively seemed to know where you were looking and what your intent was. If you a user was reading a document or webpage and reached the bottom of the window, the page would scroll automatically and seamlessly. Was the HoloLens 2 reading the minds of the people it sat upon? Don’t worry, there’s no evil sorcery nor is there a ghost in this machine, just old olf fashion cutting-edge design.
Voice commands appear to be sharp, responsive and were designed for more specific interactions. In the demo, it was shown that windows can become sticky and speech can be transcribed into messages. Developers will surely take full advantage of the range of voice commands possible to further enrich a mixed reality experience.
Design and Comfort
There are several notable improvements on the original design, most notably, the new flip-up display. Users can now move in and out of reality using this handy feature. The HoloLens 2 weighs in at 566 grams, slightly lighter than the previous design. The balanced, light-weight design is achieved with a carbon fiber construction. Microsoft studied the shapes and sizes of people heads and accommodated for folks with glasses in this newest version. It all fits snug on your head like a futuristic baseball cap.
The HoloLens 2 will depend on Wi-fi networks like the previous design for connectivity and the average battery life is estimated at 3 to 4 hours. You’ll be working like Tony Stark and if Microsoft has it’s way, completing your TPS cover sheets in glorious mixed reality.
Consumer VS Enterprise
The HoloLens 2 contains some Enterprise hardware, at an Enterprise price. We’re still not at a point where this sort of thing is available for the average Joe but that’s not exactly the target market here. The easy-to-use and intuitive UI combined with a stunning field of view make the newest addition to the HoloLens family a real powerhouse. Considering the high initial price tag and monthly service fees, the HoloLens 2 was clearly not made for general consumers but that does not diminish its impact.
Several featured available at launch are geared towards businesses and organizations. A protected login option uses the eye tracking functionality to perform iris recognition which is ideal for high-security sectors, military, and government. The HoloLens Customization Program, Dynamics Guide 365 and future integration with the Azure cloud service all give companies more choice over how they utilize the HoloLens system.
Microsoft is taking a very open stance on mixed reality development with an open app store, open web browser and an open API. There’s hope that the collaborative efforts from other leaders in the space will lead to something special. Our bet is, it will.
A New Generation of Mixed Reality
There’s no official release date for the HoloLens 2 but it is ready for preorder. You can get it for a one-time fee of $3500 and it’s currently unclear if a more cost-effective developer version will be available. This base price does not include many of the Enterprise support packages listed above. Make no mistakes, this is a big innovation and an exciting new tool for big business.
Augmented reality is shaping up to be THE platform of the future and today’s captains of industry have been awakened to its massive appeal and potential. The big question is, now that Microsoft has unleashed this technical blitz across the mixed reality landscape, what will Apple do?