If you had followed along on Twitter or gone straight to the source and listened to the live streaming version of the big Microsoft Windows 10 event on Jan. 21, you probably felt the excitement. That energy was not just about Windows 10: Yeah, that operating system seems nice, and the fit and finish will probably make it the next Windows 7 — you know, the version of the product that corporations land on and run for a decade or more because it is just solid, reliable, and compatible. Everyone who skipped Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 will certainly gravitate toward a major migration toward Windows 10, and Microsoft understands this. It looks like a solid release.
But what folks were really pumped up about was the introduction of a technology and a prototype that was completely out of left field to basically anyone who watches Microsoft on a regular basis: the HoloLens.
[ Related: Microsoft Doesn’t Know What It Has With HoloLens ]
What Is Hololens?
Think of HoloLens as a better version of the Oculus Rift, which is now owned by Facebook, and a much better and more applicable to reality product than Google Glass, which was just abandoned — or, rather, put on hiatus until the fall. (Three guesses as to how long that hiatus actually is.)
[ Related: How Google Glass Could Still See Consumer Success ]
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HoloLens is a wearable device that takes the real world and inserts into it virtual objects; it is augmented reality at its cutting edge now. It is a pair of glasses through which you can see the real world, but it also has a unique display element that lets the computer paint images on top of that reality, in color and with an apparently astonishing closeness to reality.
No additional devices, like a smartphone or another computer, are necessary, although you have to wonder how long the battery that powers the unit will last. In any event, since this device is not yet in production, there is time to figure out the details. Let us focus on the bigger picture.
[ Related: Microsoft Leaps into 3D Computing with Windows Holographic and HoloLens ]
The demos that the company allowed some press to walk through were scenarios where putting virtual elements within the physical world really improves the end user experience. For example, a “father” was connected with his “daughter” via a Skype call, and the daughter was using the HoloLens while her father walked her through how to repair a plumbing issue with her sink — he was able to draw arrows basically right on top of her field of vision directing her where to put the replacement part, how to install it, what tool to use to perform each task and so on.
Rather than having to rely on only words to describe the procedure, he was able to guide the daughter through the repair easily. Another demonstration involved actually using one’s hands to interact with the virtual objects projected into the physical field of vision.
People are excited about the gaming aspect of HoloLens. Building Minecraft structures on Mars, or immersing yourself into first person shooter games in a way even the Oculus Rift did not allow you to experience. The technology is amazing; Microsoft Research has long been on the forefront of cutting-edge technology, almost to the point that their projects can sometimes seem indistinguishable from magic. Microsoft Research is a group of highly talented, intellectually gifted, top quality researchers and academicians that really develop some of the most interesting and bleeding edge technologies around.
HoloLens Is Huge for the Corporate Crowd
HoloLens has a future that not everyone quite grasping at the moment. That is, its future in business. Gaming is fun, sure, but these devices can be used in almost any business in some way to provide such a better experience for customers that I suspect they will be throwing money at you.
This device can be used in business collaboration settings, too. Imagine an interactive business review, where you literally move numbers around on a page. Imagine an earnings presentation where you can actually transform bar and pie charts to answer questions and derive insight. Even consider an analytics angle: What if you can take a virtual walking tour of all of your New York customers’ buying habits in a certain Brooklyn location?
Also, consider the potential of HoloLens alongside the absolutely gorgeous and eminently usable Surface Hub product, which was also announced at the event. Surface Hub (no, not the utility installed on all Surface Pro 3 tablets — kudos go to Redmond for yet another product naming clash) is the premium office conference room display with a reasonably powerful computer included at no additional charge — 4K resolution with a couple of display sizes, with the largest reaching a giant 84 inches diagonal, a Windows 10 computer, Office, Cortana and more, and it is touch sensitive and you can use pens on it, too. It is, literally, meant to be the hub of the conference room.
[ Related: Hands-on: Microsoft’s Massive Surface Hub Enables Big-Screen Collaboration ]
Consider what types of applications you could have while teaming up with colleagues or having a product design review on an 84-inch screen with everyone in the room using HoloLens, able to make design changes in 3D (and perhaps 4D by the time this all makes it to the market) or change the colors on parts.
Imagine how a large airplane manufacturer might use HoloLens together with the Surface Hub—or even just HoloLens by itself—to walk airframe customers through choosing interiors, which they can see virtually installed instantaneously. Imagine how large homebuilders can revolutionize their design centers by walking customers through the empty shell of a house with a couple of HoloLens units and show all sorts of upgrades, custom features, structure changes and more.
Think of hospitals revolutionizing medical and surgical training and minimizing error rates and patient deaths even further by always having a second experienced surgeon on hand virtually during difficult procedures.
If you take a couple of minutes, you can imagine many scenarios within your day where you can enhance your productivity and your business by immersing yourself into an experience.
The Last Word
Resist the strong temptation to relegate HoloLens into the category of devices that computer gaming enthusiasts and Dungeons and Dragons players use in their spare time, with not much practical application. This is anything but a toy.
The possibilities that HoloLens enables to transform the way businesses show their employees and customers their products, and the new items, services, and businesses this sort of augmented reality device can create based on those new experiences, are pretty much endless.
When HoloLens actually hits the market, expect developers to start writing apps that make these wearables sing. This kind of technology, marketed and productized appropriately, is what makes the technology field so exciting.
We may be on the cusp of the next big thing in business computing. Who would have thought it would be a pair of computerized glasses?