At an event held for the media at its corporate campus in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft unveiled HoloLens, a face computer that blends holographs into your world using see-through lenses. And it is somewhat remarkable.
After the morning’s keynote wrapped, the company guided the accumulated technology press through a series of demos using incomplete hardware and software. The hardware we used was non-wireless, bulky, slightly uncomfortable, but functional. The system is not done, but should be in the market about the time Windows 10 hits the streets in its final form later this year.
In one demo, a room of tables and chairs became an interactive Minecraft experience where I could see towers resting on flat surfaces. I could also use a simple tool — using voice to change my selected weapon — to dig holes in a physical bench, digitally, and then push some holographic zombies into the vat of lava that was moldering several feet below the bench itself.
It looked something like this (image via Microsoft):
On the outside, of course, I was poking the air wearing something that probably looked like a failed Steampunk costume. In another demo, I was kicking around Mars, and the system was smart enough to not put the Martian environment over a PC that sat on a nearby desk. So, I interacted with the PC with a mouse, while standing on Mars.
I also had a session that involved a Skype call, during which my chat partner could see what I could see, and could “draw” onto my world, marking my environment with arrows and more. It was like having someone show up inside your head and help out. It was almost too intrusive.
Of course, demos are the substance of dreams yet realized. If Microsoft were merely showing off the headset without promising to release it later this year, it would be a less interesting product. But since the headsets will be sold, they are more than vaporware.
The company has plans to build software for HoloLens, but it will be, as with all things, up to third-party developers to build the killer apps that make the headset a must-have. Microsoft’s quest to reclaim its former status as the de facto computing platform provider continues.
It’s almost odd to consider, but Microsoft is now one of the most interesting hardware companies. It builds Xboxes, Surfaces, smartphones, huge touch displays and now a holographic nerd helmet that it seems to hope will create a new layer of computing in the world.
Price? Formal launch date? Partners? First killer app? All of those are critical unknowns, and Microsoft has a long road ahead. But what it has built to date is impressive, fun and challenging.