Microsoft’s Building the Next-Gen HoloLens in Broad Daylight

Posted on May 19, 2018 by Brad Sams in Hardware with 29 Comments


One thing I was looking forward to at Build 2018 is that I had been hearing whispers that Microsoft may start talking more openly about their next generation HoloLens at the conference. If you have been watching the Sams Report or FRD, you will know that one of my predictions is that we would learn more about the new hardware and if you were paying close attention, that’s exactly what the company did at the event.

If you are thinking ‘I don’t remember seeing any new demos or the new device’ you would be right, but what they did show off is the new sensor array that will be included in the headset. The thing is, they didn’t call it HoloLens, they called it Kinect.

Now, you might be thinking that ‘Brad, this is logical but speculation at best’ but that’s not an accurate statement. In conjunction with the blog post announcing the new Kinect sensor, Alex Kipman penned a post on his LinkedIn page talking about the hardware and it explicitly states “This is the sensor that Satya described onstage at the Build conference and is also the sensor that will give the next version of HoloLens new capabilities”.

There is no hiding this fact anymore, this is one component of the sensor array that will help make the next-gen device better than the hardware that you can buy today.

‘Ok that’s great Brad, but that’s one piece of the puzzle of the next generation hardware’ but if you dig in a bit more, the company has made other posts explicitly calling out the next-gen device. In July of 2017, the company talked about the second generation holographic processing unit that is again “is designed to work in the next version of HoloLens”.

What we know so far is the new HPU “will incorporate an AI coprocessor to natively and flexibly implement DNNs” and that the fourth generation Kinect sensor will provide significantly improved performance (especially in bright daylight). But there are a few more leaps that will be made with this hardware.

With all new hardware, we can expect it to be thinner, lighter, faster and have better battery life. This is the standard cadence for hardware improvements in any industry and knowing that the HoloLens has already gone through one revision, (second gen device was scrapped, read my scoop here) this will be the ‘third’ iteration of the hardware, the performance gains will be significant.

The biggest change will be the light engine that Microsoft is using and the specs of this hardware are harder to come-by but I do know that the company is bringing all this componentry in-house. The company is going all-in on development is not depending on third-parties to assist with design and development; think a wider field of view as that’s the primary limiting factor of the current gen device.

And finally there is the price, the current device costs a tough-to-swallow $3000 for the dev edition. I would hope that the next-gen device comes in at a lower price point to reach a wider audience but there are a couple things to consider.

One of the primary reasons Microsoft canceled v2 is that there isn’t any competition at this time. Magic Leap keeps making promises about shipping hardware but has yet to do so and Apple/Google, while working on this type of hardware, are not shipping anything.

I do believe that Microsoft made the right decision to not ship V2 and jump to ‘V3’ as the rough timeline is that we should see the hardware reach wide-availability is sometime next year. Even if Apple and Google announce hardware later this year, this should put the major players all on a similar timeline for hardware release and by not having to deal with the overhead-baggage of V2, V3 should be a better product as more resources are dedicated to building that new device.

But back to the price, personally, an ideal price point would be about $800 but I’m not holding my breath at this price point. While that may seem expensive, I’d rather have Microsoft ship a premium product than undercut it to hit a lower price point; it’s also the same price as a higher-end smartphone.

While I wish Microsoft would have shown us more at Build for the next-gen device to help build excitement for the brand and the company, they are clearly taking their time with the announcement to show us something closer to completion rather than a prototype.

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