In case you haven't heard it yet, augmented reality is the next big thing. Whether it is entertainment, medicine, manufacturing, marketing, or according to a recent announcement from Microsoft, home renovation, augmented reality is poised to change the way we do everything. At least that is what the hyperbole would have you believe.
SEE: VR and AR: The Business Reality (ZDNet special feature)
On March 18, 2016, Microsoft announced that the company had partnered with Lowe's in a pilot program to integrate HoloLens with home improvement. In a nutshell, customers can don a HoloLens at their local Lowe's and view a virtual kitchen, where they can assess the pros and cons of various colors and styles for cabinets and countertops.
As you may have guessed, I am skeptical about the whole idea.
According to the announcement, the program will be limited to a few pilot programs around the country, starting with the Seattle area. Starting slowly is a good idea because I don't think the general public is going to be as impressed as Microsoft and Lowe's would like it to be.
SEE: Research: Virtual and augmented reality in the enterprise (Tech Pro Research)
Here is the crux of Microsoft's pitch, emphasis added:
"Now people can view, in life-like realism, large items like cabinets, appliances and countertops in size and scale with incredibly high-definition options and detailed finishes. The holographic details are rich and allow users to even see the differences between shiny chrome appliances versus matte brushed aluminum options."
That is the epitome of over-promise and under-deliver marketing fluff and puffery. The technology of augmented and virtual reality has not reached the Wow! status yet and most of the non-tech savvy are not going to be impressed by what they see at Lowe's through a HoloLens.
If we compare the current state of augmented and virtual reality devices to the developmental history of the personal computer, I'd say we are at the analogous stage of the IBM PC Jr.
We have working devices that hint at what will someday be, we have major corporations advertising and marketing to raise awareness, but the devices themselves are not ready for primetime just yet. Sure the technology geeks are excited and ready to be the early adopters they love to be. But the rest of the consumer market is not impressed by the technology and really not impressed with the high cost of acquisition.
Although Microsoft's attempt to get its HoloLens devices some real-world exposure by partnering with Lowe's is commendable, in the end it's nothing more than a marketing gimmick. And while Microsoft appears to be committed to developing a useable and affordable augmented reality device, the company should be more careful in what capabilities it promises for its current version.
Renovating a kitchen is a time-consuming and stressful endeavor. I can't see many consumers in that frame of mind wanting to add to the stress by trying some unproven and overhyped technology. I think most people would prefer to stick with the color swatches and catalogues.
Someday, augmented and virtual reality devices will be as commonplace and passé as smartphones with cameras are now. But that day is still a number of years off and a number of technological iterations away. Promising more than can be delivered does a disservice to the whole concept.
- Augmented and virtual reality: An IT leader's introduction
- How Microsoft's HoloLens could change communication via 'Holoportation'
- Virtual reality in 2016: The 10 biggest trends to watch
- Why virtual reality could finally mend its broken promise
- Mini-glossary: Virtual reality terms you should know
- Microsoft buys Havok and looks to dominate a virtual reality future
Am I being too harsh on current virtual reality devices? Is the technology good enough for mass adoption by the masses or is it just a geek's toy?
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.