I’ve been using the Microsoft Hololens for over 6 months. 4 of those in production in physical stores for an international brand. I’ve used them in events with weird artificial lightning, in normal sunny days, with people and without anyone around. The only test I did not do was outside, I’ve always used them indoors.
Technological Wow Factor
I call it the “wow factor”. The first time you put it on. Even if you’ve seen how they work during one of the multiple keynotes or presentations, got told by a colleague, or know what they are and their capabilities on paper nothing can compare to actually experiencing it by yourself. Being able to see an holographic object placed right in front of you, like you can see anything else in the real world is astounding. The real difference is that you see it there since the lenses are transparent and not through a camera like AR1 on phones or a screen that you cannot see through like VR. I cannot stress enough how important it is that they let you see the real world without recreating it.
The unique feature is having an open field of view. You’re not behind a screen. They’re open, just like traditional glasses. If you shut the whole system off (without taking the glasses off from your face) you see the real world behind the transparent lenses and not a black screen.
I’ve tried the various “alternatives” (mainly Facebook Oculus and the HTC Vive), but I’m of the idea that they’re different products. Products for a different audience and a different market. The closed headsets (Oculus and the Vive) are more directed to gamers offering an immersive experience, while the Hololens are more directed to businesses being able to merge the real world with holograms. You shouldn’t make the error to think that all competing for the very same market. They are not. There are obviously many areas of overlap between them, but they do not overlap completely.
I might be exaggerating things a bit to make a point, but the difference is there. It is obvious to anyone who’s tried both and if you ever have the opportunity to do so, you should. You might not like it at first, but it is worth just to have the experience and know what the current limit of technology is.
It’s not set in stone. Microsoft could move towards the gaming crowd and Facebook / HTC towards the business crowd. This is the situation at this moment, but it doesn’t seem like it’s changing so far.
One last thing is to take a note at the huge price difference. It is steep. Obviously Hololens is still on a technical preview (even the price went down a little already) so the price should go down with tine, but they are at least an order of magnitude more expensive.
Hololens works by creating a map of the space around it. It can also hold multiple spaces since they are organized by which WiFi router it is connected to.
It does so with various degrees of success. Indoor positioning is hard, more so in a dynamic environment.
We had to use them during events with thousands of moving people and varying lighting. They performed poorly. They’re not the device for that specific job.
They’re great if they are allowed to map the ambient around them beforehand and if the ambient doesn’t change with time2.
If it’s static you can shut them off, move them to a different position inside the mapped space and when you turn them back on they will reposition the objects correctly. Hololens figure out where they are quickly after been rebooted and in an instant place the holograms where you left them, with the exact rotation that you left it on.
If it’s dynamic you are going to run though issues depending on how dynamic the space is. There were times where the rotation was wrong, times when the position was wrong and time where it lost its mapping completely and had no idea where it was.
There is a mode where you can see how the device has mapped the room so before placing anything try to get it all mapped.
On The Commercial Edition
If you’re having a demo for a client or anything that it is more than just internal testing, do yourself and your company a favour and get the Commercial Edition of Hololens instead of the Developer Edition. Yes, it is more expensive and the “base version” is already expensive enough as it is, but nothing is worse than the application you’re showing off closing during a demo because of a gesture. Especially in the beginning getting a hang of the various gestures and what they do is hard and it is fairly easy to get the gesture wrong and trigger an unexpected action.
On top of that the gesture that closes the application and brings you back to the desktop (bloom gesture) might get recognized instead of the tap gesture(air tap). That because the system will recognize the wrong gesture from time to time if they’re similar enough. Also keep in mind that you can’t upgrade a Development license to a Commercial one so you need to factor in this decision before being any device, especially if you’re a small company and getting a single Hololens might be a significant investment.
A different route, if you don’t want to spend the money for the Commercial Edition, might be deciding from the start to forgo of gestures altogether and only use clickers to air tap, this way you solve the problem, but you also lose a lot of the experience of using the product.
The difference between Hololens and Vive/Oculous is not really that obvious unless you’ve tried them both. From an external observer they might seem like distinct, but similar products. After trying them you realized that they are completely different products for completely different use cases. Having a blocked field of view or having an open one is a huge difference, as much so that I don’t consider them to be comparable devices.
It’s a niche device with huge innovative potential, but in its current state is still an unrefined product, more adept at demos about the technology itself that actual use in a production environment.
That said AR1 and VR[ˆ3] are one of the next big things in tech.
AR stands for Augmented Reality. Usually referred at a visual representation of the real world “augmented” by technology. VR stands for Virtual Reality. In this case the real world is not simply augmented, but simulated ”ex-novo”. ↩ ↩2
The space needs to stay completely static. This includes both the lighting, the objects and the people inside the space. It will still work with a dynamic space, but its performance will be poorer and objects might be placed in the wrong position. ↩