With the big reveal of the HoloLens, Microsoft has trumpeted its entry into an increasingly competitive new market for virtual and augmented reality (AR).
HoloLens is an AR headset for Windows 10 that Microsoft promises will blend digital visuals into the real world – effectively creating holograms in a user’s surrounding environment.
“All I can say is: it's on!” said Stefan Pernar, president of the Australian Virtual Reality Industry and managing director of Virtual Reality Ventures.
“After Facebook's Oculus Rift purchase, Sony's Project Morpheus and Google's Magic Leap investment, Microsoft seems to have understood the signs of the times and is throwing its considerable weight behind the augmented reality bandwagon.”
Pernar said Microsoft’s approach is different from Oculus Rift in that Microsoft aims to incorporate virtual experiences into the real world rather than create a completely virtual experience that is closed off from reality.
“AR is the logical extension of immersive virtual experiences,” he said. “While the Oculus Rift and competing VR [head-mounted displays] are shutting out most of our environment once we put it on and making social interaction difficult and interaction with our surrounding problematic, AR allows for a seamless overlay of virtual content over the real world.”
“It is the logical next step and Oculus' dominance in the space is certainly being shaken with this reveal.”
Telsyte analyst Rodney Gedda said the HoloLens “is somewhat of a 'me too' play by Microsoft, but it shows the company sees that as an area to invest in the future".
“Like other forms of wearables like smartwatches, [Microsoft] is not going to sit on the sidelines and let other vendors garner that space,” the analyst said.
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Analysts at Forrester heralded the HoloLens as a potentially game-changing device if Microsoft can execute on the vision.
“If successful, HoloLens will ultimately expand the way people interact with machines just as the mouse-based interface did in the 1990s, and touch interfaces did after the introduction of the iPhone in 2007,” wrote Forrester analyst James McQuivey.
Impact for the enterprise
Forrester predicted that millions will buy HoloLens by the end of 2016, and the device could have big implications for the enterprise and markters, analysts said.
For business, HoloLens "will offer many of the best features of virtual reality and augmented reality, giving business leaders a powerful new tool to enable workforce scenarios like remote collaboration, field work, and training," said Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder.
"It has the potential to radically improve how enterprises conduct business in each of those areas, and is a powerful platform for creating interaction innovations."
In the Microsoft video revealing the HoloLens, people are shown visualizing concept designs for products they are designing, taking video calls while walking through the office, and receiving step-by-step instructions on how to fix a sink via a video call and visual overlay on the pipes.
Gedda said HoloLens and competing AR headsets could be used for training employees how to do their jobs in a virtual environment. In addition, glasses could be useful for providing information to workers who need to keep their hands free, he said.
In 2015 predictions released yesterday, Deloitte predicted that the enterprise, not consumers, will drive smart glasses forward. The glasses could be useful for any company that wants to provide workers with information while keeping their hands free, it said.
For marketers, “HoloLens will expand the way brands interact with consumers forever more, working its way through industry after industry much the way Web and mobile experiences did before it,” said Forrester's McQuivey.