Posey's Tips & Tricks

Microsoft's Path for HoloLens Success

If the company wants the device to be relevant, it will need to learn the mistakes of the past and have a vibrant app ecosystem up and running quickly.

Last year at Microsoft’s annual Build conference, the world was introduced to HoloLens. At the event, Microsoft provided a demo that was nothing short of astounding. The company showed how holograms and augmented reality could be used for purposes ranging from gaming to engineering, and much more.

Once the media hype began to die down a bit, some tech journalists began to speculate as to whether HoloLens would really provide us with the awesomely immersive experience that the Microsoft demo had promised. I remember reading a few posts from people claiming to have tried out a HoloLens prototype, who complained of limited display resolution and a tiny field of view, resulting in a very disappointing experience. More recently, I have read a few recent posts from developers who have allegedly received a HoloLens device and claim that the device is every bit as good as what Microsoft promised.

I have not yet had a chance to try out HoloLens for myself. I have high hopes for the device, but will reserve judgment until I have had the opportunity to take a unit for a test drive. What I will say however, is that Microsoft has put one of my fears to rest.

While some have been speculating that HoloLens might have a limited field of view, or a laggy GPU, I have actually been concerned about HoloLens for a completely different reason. As cool as the HoloLens hardware may be, HoloLens is nothing without software, and unfortunately, apps have been a problem for Microsoft in the past. Take Windows Phone, for example. The Windows Phone hardware is solid, the operating system and the interface are excellent and yet Windows Phone has a miniscule market share. Part of this can be attributed to poor marketing, but another problem is that there aren’t nearly as many apps available for Windows Phone as there are for some of the competing platforms.

Now, consider Microsoft’s app store history and what could potentially become of HoloLens if that history was to continue. Unless Microsoft convinces developers to build apps for HoloLens, then HoloLens will become nothing more than a novelty, much like the ill-fated Google Glass.

It wasn’t just Microsoft’s track record with developers that had me concerned. I was also worried about the cost of building an app for the HoloLens. Development units are currently selling for about $3000. Now admittedly, there are some technology enthusiasts who would happily pay for a HoloLens or two. To them, the steep price tag is made worthwhile by the prospect of working with cutting edge technology that has an undeniable cool factor. But what about the developers who either cannot afford a HoloLens, or who cannot get a HoloLens due to the limited supply of development units?

Microsoft seems to have solved this problem (and put my concerns to rest) by creating a HoloLens emulator. Those developers who do not have access to physical hardware will be able to use the emulator to create apps for HoloLens.  The emulator runs in a Hyper-V virtual machine and from an app standpoint is supposedly indistinguishable from a physical device. Microsoft has even provided spatial mappings of several different rooms, which should help developers to get a feel for how HoloLens maps its surroundings.

The other thing that Microsoft has done to make HoloLens a bit more accessible was to involve the community in the app building process. Microsoft asked for suggestions as to what types of apps would be the best suited to HoloLens.  Microsoft evaluated the suggestions, and ultimately created an app called Galaxy Explorer. It isn’t so much the app that’s important, as the fact that Microsoft has made the app open source. Microsoft is encouraging developers to use the app’s code as a model for building apps that run on HoloLens.

Obviously, it still remains to be seen how well HoloLens will be received by the general public once it is eventually released for retail sale. Being that it is the apps that really make the HoloLens experience what it is, I am happy to see Microsoft taking steps to make HoloLens more accessible to developers.


About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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