If you ask Alex Kipman to name the most significant advancement in the brand-new version of HoloLens, Microsoft’s mixed-reality headset, he’ll say the answer is yes. It’s not an evasion of the question—it’s evidence of his excitement.
Kipman, Microsoft’s technical fellow for AI and mixed reality, gets excited about “all of the things” in the HoloLens 2. When pressed, though, it comes down to three key improvements: It’s more comfortable, it’s more immersive, and it offers more out-of-box value than the first HoloLens. Kipman uttered this mantra—“comfort, immersion, out-of-box value”—frequently during my day-long visit to Microsoft’s headquarters last month, like someone who had been well coached by his communications staff. Later, when an editor asked me what was new about the new HoloLens 2, I realized the mantra was still rattling in my brain, as though it had been transmitted through the headgear.
The new HoloLens 2 is more comfortable than the first headset, and more immersive. Its diagonal field of view has more than doubled, with Microsoft wielding a new kind of patented imaging technology. It has an AI processing unit and now connects to Azure, Microsoft’s cloud service.
Whether the $3,500 headset provides more out-of-box value is a call for its commercial customers to make. This isn’t a headset you’ll use for gaming or for sending interactive poop emoji to friends, or one that the average consumer will ever wear at all. It’s not for “knowledge workers” like me and Kipman, people who sit at their desks all day, he says. It’s for people whose jobs are being digitally transformed—people who work in design or manufacturing, who fix gear shifts and work on oil rigs, military personnel.
Try to forget, for a second, that HoloLens is a headset. Kipman thinks about it more as a full-fledged computer for a futuristic world of remote workers in need of expertise. And Microsoft is determined to make it the most advanced mixed-reality computer out there. That much is clear, even if all of the use cases for it haven’t crystallized yet.
To grasp the significance of HoloLens 2, it helps to know its origin. The earliest seeds for HoloLens were planted as far back as 11 years ago. It was borne out of Kinect, the Xbox peripheral product that used a variety of sensors to compute depth maps and recognize humans within its field of view. Kipman is credited with inventing Kinect, and in 2010, he began channeling some of the Kinect’s technology into a head-mounted holographic computer. It was known then as Project Baraboo, but it would later become HoloLens.
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