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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.

One of the goals was to show off how virtual objects could be interacted with: via a small circular cursor that would appear on an object you were looking directly at, by an oral command, or by a click. In Windows Holographic, you "click" by holding your palm out, then lowering your index finger to your palm. The trick is that the camera has to "see" your finger doing this, so you have to remind yourself to keep your hands in "view," as it were.

Not everything went smoothly. Some code didn't seem to work correctly the first time, and had to be recompiled and re-loaded. There was even some garbage-in, garbage-out: to reset the scene, we could pick our own command word; I chose "Abracadabra," but mistyped and forgot the first "R". Not surprisingly, it worked once the error had been corrected. But another command, "Bombs away," barely worked once.

We eventually learned how to drag virtual objects around the room, rolling virtual balls off various real-world objects like tables and chairs that the HoloLens mapped as virtual surfaces. The grand finale, however, made it all worthwhile: when the balls hit the floor, they exploded — and revealed a Minecraft-like underworld "beneath" the floor. The gathered employees had a good laugh at the reporters who crawled around the floor hoping for a better view.

"You are now a Windows Holographic developer," were all told enthusiastically, to more applause. 

The best is yet to come

Microsoft revealed Thursday that Windows 10 devices, including HoloLens, will be rolled out over a staggered timeline. HoloLens and the Surface Hub require new hardware, implying that they'll launch at the back of the pack.

Still, we can imagine that a HoloLens launch might occur, say, in January. That's just over seven months away. Press-room guesses on its price all start at four figures, with Gartner analyst Martin Reynolds believing that they'll be priced at $2,000 initially. (Eventually, I believe, it will be about the price of an Xbox One, or $300 or so, but that's a couple of years away.)

Essentially, HoloLens is developer hardware, much like the Chromebook Pixel is to the Chromebook — if other HoloLenses existed, of course. And while this may exist in a few specialized applications — architecture, say, or medicine — I think it's a stretch to believe that we'll be toting around Microsoft's space helmet anytime soon. Why? Too many unanswered questions, for one.

No one knows the HoloLens's battery life. No one's sure of its performance, how many apps can or will be written to it, and how many it can run at one time. On the control console, there was an icon marked "cool" with a temperature gauge next to it. (Hmmm.) The HoloLens's field of view makes me wonder that even if you could haul a virtual video window with you around the house, whether you'd actually want to.

 

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