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Developing with HoloLens: Decent hardware chases Microsoft's lofty augmented reality ideal

Mark Hachman | May 4, 2015
If you accept that Microsoft's HoloLens is a tool, you'll be delighted. But be wary of its followers, who seem to believe that it shall lead Microsoft to the promised land.

If you accept that Microsoft's HoloLens is a tool, you'll be delighted. But be wary of its followers, who seem to believe that it shall lead Microsoft to the promised land.

There's a fine line to walk here, for HoloLens holograms truly are a transformative experience. Interacting with virtual objects an arms length away, seemingly hovering in space, is a memory that you will not easily forget. But now that I've tried out HoloLens not once, but twice, I can be a bit more critical.

Microsoft supposedly has manufactured hundreds of HoloLenses, but few (none?) have been seeded to developers. As it did in January, Microsoft forbade reporters from taking pictures or recording video of the HoloLens in use, save for a single unit behind glass. And when we did get a chance to try out the HoloLens, a Microsoft emcee heralded its coming with a shout — "Bring in the hardware!" — while dozens of Microsoft employees rhythmically clapped along to loud house music. Whose playbook do you think they took that from?

With that said — and it must be said — HoloLens represents what Microsoft is aspiring to do: reinvent a market where "innovation" equates to reformatting apps for larger and smaller sheets of glass. As Microsoft executives are quick to note, HoloLens does away with the glass altogether, yet uses a familiar programming model that can be used to repurpose existing "universal" Windows apps for the new environment.

I had a chance to try out HoloLens from the perspective of a developer, led through a mock 90-minute session where I was "taught" how to code a Windows Holographic application, as well as a chance to try it out using the latest HoloLens hardware.

Microsoft's crown of dreams

When we were given a chance to experience HoloLens in January, the hardware was Borg-like: tethered via cables, HoloLens was more like a scuba mask attached to a bicycle helmet. (In both cases, our eyes were measured to determine our inter-pupillary distance, to ensure that we would see the projected holograms clearly.) What Microsoft showed off under glass this week is the real deal: wireless, relatively comfortable, and much more polished.

The new HoloLens consists of two sturdy, plastic frames. An inner loop rests over your skull, connected to an outer frame that holds the hardware itself. At a guess, I'd say the hardware itself weighs about a pound or a little more, not uncomfortable but certainly noticeable. On either side, on top of the frame, are two sets of buttons; the left buttons control the brightness of the holograms, while the right control the volume of the sounds pumped through the headset.

 

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