In the past we already wrote about Hololens but we could only rely on the Microsoft’s promises as we didn’t own one these days.
Now, we own devices and can test them in greater detail.
Not easy to get
First of all: the glasses aren’t cheap and nobody can buy them except developers from the USA and Canada. So, remember to buy one during your next U.S. trip.
The price is 3000 US Dollar which puts the device to luxury class, even above ODG R-7 (actual producer price: 2750 US Dollar). In this blogpost we will check whether Holoens is worth its price or not.
Our initial impression
The device arrives in a high-quality carry case. That’s quite important for the beginning, as you tend to handle Hololens as carefully as all other Smart Glasses we reviewed yet.
But the fear of destroying the device is largely unfounded: The device seems to be of really high quality and well-processed. At no time during our test procedure we felt something to be soldered, bonded or somehow made provisionally. We mention this, because in the past we got more than just one device that wasn’t produced industrially but seemed to be the result of a prototyping phase.
Tracking & Augmented Reality
The biggest difference between Hololens and present smart glasses is the number of integrated sensors and cameras. Hololens makes users think of VR like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. At the front part there are two Kinect modules with cameras that permanently scan the room in front of the user. This really ensured the greatest wow-effect when first putting on the device: it proverbially overlays the environment with a digital “carpet”, which correctly is placed on walls, furniture or other objects.
Despite the camera, smart glasses so far didn’t offer enough possibilities to track the user’s environment and therefore couldn’t present Augmented Reality content in a satisfying way. The result: 3D-models and other content didn’t only wriggle around but also were presented within the 3D area in a wrong way due to non-existing, so called “occlusion”.
Hololens works in a different way due to comprehensive tracking methods. Thus, 3D models also can be hidden behind real objects or attached to walls. Furthermore, “markers” aren’t necessary any more to make the the software tracker place AR content within the room – a great advantage.
Hololens is one of the biggest and heaviest smart glasses we ever have tested. But Microsoft solved this challenge quite well. With an inner “ring” the device is attached to the user’s head, comparable to a safety helmet. So, the glasses is positioned on the nose like conventional glasses.
The wearing comfort is great. But when you take off the glasses you recognize a significant bruise on the forehead where the inner “ring” has carried the weight. But we could easily wear the device for one or two hours without complaints.
The big non-removable glass at the front of Hololens darkens the surrounding to better display the AR content. Well, this could be a disadvantage in some situations, especially when having a look at security issues.
One of the most spectacular characteristics of Hololens is its operation concept. The user only needs to remember two fundamental moves: the opening blossom and the finger tip. The first one makes the top menu appear at any time. It’s the same menu than in the conventional Windows environment. From this point you can install apps or open browser windows and the hologram-library.
Like all other applications the top menu floats around the user. This really feels naturally although it needs some rethinking. Another highlight: The top menu follows the user when he moves.
Furthermore there’s a great voice control. In several situations you can easily operate via voice or ask Cortana, Microsoft’s alternative to Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa, for help.
The audio output is managed with two integrated speakers above the user’s ears. The sound is cristal clear but you also recognize what’s going on around you.
After having familiarized with the device due to the tutorial with the friendly female voice one can have fun with the preinstalled applications. First there is the library with so-called holograms. These are interactive 3D objects that can be placed into the room or increased and reduced in size. With a finger-tip they offer further interactions.
Like in reality the user has to focus the object. When turning around, the object disappears and stays where it was placed.
Microsoft started a developer program to quickly increase the number of apps available for Hololens. Right now there already is a variety of different applications: from virtual journey to exciting places to games. But what about productivity?
A fascinating aspect is that the Hololens-user has access to his own PC via the so-called “companion-app”. Hololens can be connected via bluetooth and thus can be used as display output. So you can grab yourself a keyboard and work with several virtual monitors. Change their size with an easy finger-tip. Is that the new gamechanger? We really can’t forecast it right now, but having several displays ready at any time and work with them instead of monitors is quite an interesting thought – sharp looks in public inclusive.
Developing for Hololens
Microsoft already has made available a great section for developers to support a quick start.
Hololens Emulator is an essential tool. It enables the developer to simulate the environment the future user operates in. Therefore interaction concepts can be designed. It’s really helpful to have an affinity for 3D models.
In doing so you realize how thinking needs to differ when developing “Holographic Apps”. There’s no fixed screen, no fixed size and even the placing is unclear. Developing is completely different, on the one hand that’s pretty exciting on the other hand a total new challenge for developing digital content, tools and apps.
Is Hololens Augmented or Virtual Reality?
Short answer: it’s both. With Hololens one can either present virtual objects in real environment (Augmented Reality) or present a complete overlay like a 360° video. Then the real environment is blinded out and a Virtual Reality experience starts. Some people therefore tend to call is Mixed Reality but the definition isn’t clear-cut.
Hololens is close to be the holy grail of Augmented Reality
Everyone at iTiZZiMO who was allowed to test the glasses was enthusiastic about the experience. Once again after Google Glass we had a wow-effect. We never saw that virtual objects integrate into the real world that seamlessly.
The result: there are numerous possible ways of interacting with those objects. And Microsoft further develops new possibilities for example collaboration like shown in the first trailers. With this interaction it would be possible to make content accessible for several people at the same time.
The biggest drop of bitterness is the same we already have identified in earlier blogposts: the display remains a “window to the world”, the borders are cut and thus the complete immersive experience stays out.
And For Business Purposes?
You can ask yourself what Hololens can offer for enterprises and the way we work. The example to use it instead of monitors would of course satisfy the buyer of office equipment but what are further fields of application?
In their own videos Microsoft puts an emphasis on the possibility to give designers a more realistic picture of their prototype in scale 1:1. Service experts would be able to give instructions for their technicians by remote call within the field of view or by pinning them on the corresponding component. This almost exactly corresponds to our vision of 2013. Also some of the presented situations in the warehouse would be possible with Hololens. But we wouldn’t recommend the glasses for longer operating time, especially when the user needs to walk around.
For doing so, the holograms are too artificial. It’s not easy to wear the device the whole day long and to forget that it’s there. You have to remind yourself where you are and what you want to do next after having interacted with the holograms. But when working in an office or in another fixed workplace, like at a production line or at a machine during a repair task, Hololens is a great device.
The Hololens delivers on the hype it made. Even the first tutorial you get is so well done, it pulls you into the world of holographic apps. I can think of numerous use cases to take the device to industrial applications and learning purposes. The restricted field of view has to be the biggest letdown for now, but we kind of expected that. Another one are the restrictions we have right now for US and Canada. But what I personally like most about it is the wholly different approach to user interaction. This type of device has a a future. I just hope Microsoft can keep the momentum that it set off with the hype and the developer release.
Manuel Will, Head of Marketing