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Microsoft HoloLens Heads Closer to Reality

Microsoft is now letting developers order its new HoloLens and related software, representing an important step toward bringing its "mixed-reality" glasses to market.

The HoloLens Development Edition, consisting of the glasses and software APIs, will ship March 30. The release of the kits is Microsoft's first and critical step toward letting developers build applications for HoloLens, which the company unveiled over a year ago and has touted ever since, but has also kept at arms' length.

The $3,000 package is initially only available to Windows Insiders in the U.S. and Canada. The number of devices that'll be available appears limited, based on Microsoft's messaging, and the company is looking for those who will create broadly appealing applications that'll extend its Windows 10 operating system.

"Today represents a monumental step forward," said Microsoft Technical Fellow Alex Kipman in a blog post announcing the release. "This is the first step in our journey to consumers. A step focused on our commercial partnerships and on supporting developers, who will help pave the way to consumer availability with amazing and new holographic experiences."

Kipman claims Microsoft has seen significant interest from developers. Among those Microsoft has already announced as partners are Volvo Cars, Autodesk Fusion 360, Case Western Reserve with the Cleveland Clinic, Trimble and NASA. The NASA Mars Online Project, announced early last year, is now "mission operational," Kipman noted in his post.

Microsoft has huge ambitions for HoloLens, which the company describes as a Windows 10 device and APIs that allow developers to create holographic computing experiences. "With Windows, holograms are Universal Windows [Platform] apps and all Universal Windows apps can be made to work on Windows holographic," Kipman said. "Similarly, holographic apps in the Windows Store can be monetized in the same way that all other UWP apps are today."

The forthcoming kit will include development tools that allow programmers to create projects with Microsoft's Visual Studio, an emulator and, over time, the devices themselves. The HoloLens has sensors that are powered by the company's Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) and an Intel 32-bit architecture, he noted. Kipman described the HPU as custom silicon that lets the HoloLens recognize gestures.

HoloLens aims to extend the reach of Universal Windows Apps available in the Windows Store, including OneDrive, Maps, Remote Desktop, People, Movies & TV, Groove Music and Office apps.

"The Microsoft HoloLens Development Edition also gives developers access to a showcase of holographic app experiences to help get them started," he said. "These experiences are designed to demonstrate what the device can do, and how it operates, in order to inspire developers to create incredible things."

From Microsoft's standpoint, there's pent-up demand among developers for HoloLens. Whether or not that translates into customer demand remains to be seem. Now it's in the hands of developers.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/29/2016 at 11:20 AM


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