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Unpacking the HoloLens Backlash
Attempts to pigeonhole Microsoft's mixed reality device into a specific use case -- whether it's work or play -- are missing the point, Brien argues.
A couple of months ago, I wrote a column about Microsoft's HoloLens 2 announcement. Since that time, I have gotten several HoloLens-related e-mail messages that were presumably written in response to that article. The thing that I found to be really interesting about those messages was that they expressed two diametrically opposing viewpoints.
Some of the e-mails dismissed HoloLens and its successor as being little more than a toy for people who have more money than they know what to do with. The essence of these messages was that HoloLens includes some really cool technology, but at the end of the day the device is little more than an overpriced gaming platform.
As you have probably already guessed, the other e-mails were from people who view HoloLens solely as a tool for the workplace. I received some very strongly worded e-mails containing phrases such as, "It's not a damn toy" and, "HoloLens is only meant to be used in industrial settings."
I have to admit that I was a little surprised by some of the messages that I received, but I was far more surprised by just how differently people seem to think of the HoloLens.
My personal opinion is that HoloLens is no different than any other piece of computing hardware. Its use cases are defined by the available software. I can't help but think back to the computers that were available when I was a young child. Early on, the IBM PC gained a reputation for being a serious business computer because of its price and because most of the available applications were business-related. Competing devices such as the Commodore 64 and the RadioShack Color Computer were commonly regarded as gaming computers.
There is a surprising variety of applications that are currently available for HoloLens. These applications include CAD software, games, engineering tools, educational titles and much more. My point is that the HoloLens is not a one-trick pony. There is no rule that says that HoloLens can only be used for industrial applications or that you can only use it for games.
I have two questions for the HoloLens naysayers. The first question is, if Microsoft were to give you a HoloLens 2 device for free -- with absolutely no strings attached -- would you take it? If so, my second question is, why? What would you do with it?
As someone who has spent quite a bit of time working with the original HoloLens, I can tell you from first-hand experience that the novelty factor wears off after a while. I think that at least some HoloLens owners probably bought the device because of its "wow factor," but then later found themselves wondering how to put the device to good use.
Personally, I think that HoloLens has enormous potential for use as a business tool. Granted, most of my own HoloLens use has involved engineering tasks and space-based research, but hear me out.
One of the main ways that HoloLens is being put to work in business is for virtual conferencing. The idea is that by wearing a HoloLens or a Microsoft Mixed Reality device, you can enter a virtual conference room and collaborate with co-workers who are in a distant location.
The problem with most of the current generation of virtual conferencing applications is that they don't realistically represent the people in the meeting. Some of these applications are little more than 2-D video conferencing apps that are being rendered through the HoloLens or Mixed Reality headset. Other applications render a 3-D space but use avatars to represent the people in the meeting.
Even so, there are applications like HoloBeam by Microsoft partner Valorem that are seeking to change all of that. Although not quite ready for production use, HoloBeam uses a 3-D camera to create accurate 3-D images that can be rendered in a virtual conference space. In other words, you will eventually be able to have a realistic, face-to-face conversation with someone in a 3-D virtual environment.
If you are curious about Valorem's HoloBeam technology, there is a free demo in the Windows Store here. The demo is designed for HoloLens but it also works in Microsoft Mixed Reality environments. (And check out this feature from our sister site RCPmag.com to learn how Valorem and other Microsoft partners have been developing around HoloLens.)
I have no way of knowing what the future holds for HoloLens or how the device will be thought of 20 years from now. What I will say, however, is that I suspect that the best use cases for HoloLens have not even been thought of yet.
Brien Posey is a 16-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.