Microsoft announced the $3,500 HoloLens 2 Sunday in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress, an annual event for the mobile industry.
The company demonstrated a variety of possible workplace uses across a range of industries. One demonstration featured a creative team for a toy company collaborating in real time in a virtual conference room. Other demonstrations showed auto manufacturing, industrial equipment repair and medical procedures that were all aided by the augmented reality technology.
Users who wear a HoloLens headset see the world around them, but with virtual graphics overlaid. The images often integrate with real surfaces and objects — imagine a virtual cup of coffee appearing to rest on a real table.
Microsoft said the new device will be more comfortable than the previous version, which was released in 2016. The second generation device also has much higher resolution graphics and a wider field of view. Eye-tracking and other sensors, along with AI additions, make it easier to manipulate the virtual objects. It is also adding more cloud integration. The devices are available for pre-order now and will ship later this year.
When Microsoft first unveiled a rough version of its augmented reality technology in 2015 — which the company insists on calling “mixed reality” — it was genuinely mind-blowing.
Even then, the company was leaning toward workplace uses for the technology, offering a demo of an app that let NASA researchers see the surface of Mars in their offices. In the years since then, the company has found various corporate clients and uses for the HoloLens. Car manufacturers, for example, have used the device to help maximize their production processes.
But augmented reality technology hasn’t really taken off with consumer applications.
It’s available on most high-end smartphones and can help people test furniture and lipstick or play simple games, like Pokemon Go.
For the HoloLens 2, Microsoft said it is partnering with a number of large companies, including Saab, Airbus and Honeywell. It’s intended for business applications.
“Microsoft’s new HoloLens device will bring the enterprise mixed-reality market to its next level of adoption. The device itself solves many problems associated with the first model — from a vastly expanded field of view to better hand gestures. But it’s the integration with Azure and Dynamics that will empower developers to create powerful mixed reality experiences more quickly and cheaply,” said J.P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.
The HoloLens 2 announcement shows Microsoft is committed to its version of the technology, and that it believes the tech can take off with headsets that keep users’ hands free.
It is just going to be in factories not living rooms.