Back to all articles

What Does the Microsoft HoloLens Mean for Professionals?


Microsoft dropped some big bombs during its Windows 10 keynote recently. We’re looking at Windows 10 itself in a different article, but the announcement that really has everyone buzzing is the Microsoft HoloLens.

In the computing world we’ve pretty much assumed for almost two decades that wearable computers that use natural inputs would eventually become a reality. 2015 had even been predicted to be the “year of the wearable” with smart watches and fitness devices rising in popularity, but no one was expecting something as advanced and tangible as the HoloLens this soon.

The HoloLens is essentially an augmented reality (AR) headset. In other words, it’s a device that overlays computer graphics on your visual field. There’s are lots of AR apps available for smartphones that do this sort of thing, but what the HoloLens promises is way in advance of anything we’ve seen before.

The HoloLens is meant to be a fully independent Windows 10 computer, untethered from any other system. It’s fitted with precise 3D head tracking and advanced spacial sensors that map out your environment, allowing the system to project virtual object onto things like walls and table surfaces with a high degree of accuracy.

The “secret sauce” of the system seems to be a special HPU or holographic Processing Unit, that renders object in your visual feed while taking actual optical physics into account. This makes them appear as real and solid rather than crudely overlaid as is the case with current AR technology.

Think of it as a “holodeck” from Star Trek, that you can only see while wearing this special headset. At the very least a device such as the HoloLens could spell the end of display devices such as flatscreen monitors and televisions.

The demo from microsoft really has to be seen to really understand the potential of this device, but it’s the potential implications for professional computing that’s really exciting.

A New Era in Workstation Technology?

Although consumers are clearly a prime target for the product, Microsoft has made clear its intention for enterprise applications. This has implications for professional computing applications across a wide range of industries. It will affect how we create, what we create and how our clients consume our products.

As a Display Technology

Based on what we’ve seen from the demo material currently available the HoloLens will be able to simulate all types of display devices, from traditional flatscreens “mounted” on walls to floating images that turn with your head. Presumably, despite being a fully functional mobile computer, some form of HoloLens unit will act as a display for a wirelessly connected local computer much more powerful than mobile technology allows. It might not be surprising to find people’s workspaces suddenly become very spartan, but once you’re wearing a HoloLens it turns out they have elaborate, customized display solutions that take up their entire room.

What will you do with this increased scope in interactivity and presentation. Will you now directly manipulate 3d models as if they were physically there using another technology such as the Myo? Knowing that you client or peers will also be using something like a HoloLens, how will you present data or engineering models to them? If you are creating a CG movie, will you now take a walk through a virtual “set” in the same way Microsoft demoed walking on the surface of Mars?

If HoloLens works anything like Microsoft promises it will, heck even if it only works half as well, it could change everything about how we work with digital information.

As a New Form Factor

If we take the leap and assume that something like the HoloLens will become the default new visual and audio interface for computer devices this opens up many new applications that don’t currently exist. We will still want to entertain and inform as we do today, but the scope for new ways to do old things will widen exponentially.

What if your CG movie is now designed to be seen from the inside? What if you provide your potential investors with a real-life experience of what you’re proposing rather than just telling them in words or showing them charts and animations? How will this change out work collaboration?

It’s Here, Ready or Not

Microsoft wasn’t just showing a mockup of the HoloLens at the keynote. There were real, working prototypes which journalists were allowed to try. They’re experiences are there to read all over the internet. This is something Microsoft is planning to release to market within the same timeframe as Windows 10. This is not just a concept, this is coming soon, whether we like it or not. Even more encouraging is that there are competitors in this market, such as Magic Leap and Daqri

Whether HoloLens becomes a commercial success or someone else pulls it off, the age of mixed reality is upon us. We can’t wait.