Innovation

HoloLens public demo opens: Should businesses and developers be bullish?

The price-tag and expectations are sky-high for Microsoft's long-awaited augmented reality headset. But HoloLens performs like a device determined to define the category.

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Image: Microsoft

Microsoft's HoloLens augmented reality headset is moving beyond demo-ware and into Manhattan.

This week at its flagship Microsoft Store on Fifth Avenue, Microsoft demoed its long-awaited augmented reality headset to developers and the press. The rent is steep—the device carries a $3,000 price tag for the developer kit launching in Q1—but for the enterprise and software developers, jumping in early might pay off.

That's the bet Microsoft is making by opening a HoloLens experience center in its New York digs today. It wants to attract developers and businesses to what could be the next paradigm shift in computing—especially Microsoft's take on it.

Accompanied by a Microsoft representative, on Wednesday reporters were guided through an hour-long presentation and demo that ran the HoloLens through its paces. The device has a noticeable heft, though the headset will be slimmed on future iterations, the Microsoft spokesperson assured. Though the field of vision is limited, the 3D animations are smooth, easy to interactive with, and result in only marginal eyestrain.

The HoloLens does require some patience and skill to master, but is comfortable wear and operate (though a bit clunky for glasses-wearers). Microsoft representatives would not comment on battery life, but did emphasize that a single unit was used during three ten minute demo sessions with reporters.

The device occupies a market similar to Google Glass, but with more capability and focus. Glass suffered from slow hardware, and a sparse application ecosystem. With HoloLens, Microsoft is making a play for first-mover advantage, and sending a signal that it sees augmented reality as a powerful business mover. Microsoft hopes to grow a developer-rich ecosystem quickly by integrating the Windows 10 environment.

HoloLens presents a number of additional opportunities for business. Enterprise use cases are front and center. Microsoft is working with NASA, AutoDesk, Volvo, Dassault Aviation, Case Western Reserve University, and businesses. The hope is that HoloLens will be used to develop and deploy prototypes, as well as a communication tool that helps share data and information between teams.

Microsoft's productivity software, particularly spreadsheet-powered data displays, shine on the HoloLens. Augmented reality can display rich business analytics in novel ways. Microsoft emphasizes storytelling as a compelling use for both business and educational institutions, and the HoloLens creation tools are intuitive and snappy in the demos I saw.

Mobile devices helped gaming go mainstream. It's clear that Microsoft would also like HoloLens to be a consumer gaming platform sooner than later. While the Xbox is still a powerhouse, console sales have slumped in recent years. The Microsoft spokesperson wouldn't confirm future plans, but it's easy to see a future where subsequent iterations of the HoloLens serve as both an accessory to—and even a potential replacement for—the current Xbox.

The HoloLens is not yet in production, and the cost of the developer kit puts the device outside the reach of consumers, and squarely in the hands of business. But the new experience center in New York takes HoloLens out of the demo-ware category and a lot closer to real world applications.

For now, IT folks will be encouraged to see that Microsoft has targeted HoloLens at the enterprise for a number of potentially powerful innovations, rather than getting overly infatuated with the consumer market—a tough sell for a big, heavy HMD. Its success, of course, will hinge on how quickly developers embrace the device, and deploy useful applications. That's the reason for the big splash in New York. So if you're a business or a developer and you're going to be in New York, it's worth getting down to the Microsoft Store for a demo to see if you can find some synergies with the work you do.

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About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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