Microsoft Accelerates HoloLens V3 Development, Sidesteps V2

Posted on February 19, 2017 by Brad Sams in Hardware with 48 Comments

It was a little over two years ago that Microsoft first showed the world HoloLens and the company immediately grabbed headlines around the globe about their new vision for the future of computing. Since that announcement, Microsoft has moved the prototype device into production and it can be purchased today, although it is expensive.

Last week, I started receiving tips from several sources that said Microsoft was shuffling its roadmap for Hololens which resulted in the second iteration of the device being canceled. Considering how much Microsoft has championed the device and many believe that this is the future of computing, this didn’t sound quite right.

In an effort to help paint the correct picture of what is happening with Hololens, I spoke to several sources who have direct knowledge of the company’s plans but requested anonymity for this post. With their help, I am able to provide clarity into their development process and why the second iteration of the device has been sidelined.

Back when the first version of Hololens came out, Microsoft created a roadmap that highlighted several release points for the product. This isn’t unusual, you start with the first device, second generation devices are typically smaller and more affordable and then with version three you introduce new technology that upgrades the experience; this is a standard process path in the technology sector. Microsoft, based on my sources, is sidelining what was going to be version two of HoloLens and is going straight to version three.

Why are they doing this? In the two years since the device was first announced, companies like Magic Leap have made big promises about their technology and how it will transform the world.  Today, you cannot buy a device made by Magic Leap nor have we even seen a retail device from any other company in this space. In short, Microsoft has a large lead in the AR space and isn’t feeling pressure to release a product that is only an incremental update.

By skipping what was version two on their roadmap, the company can accelerate version three which will be closer to a generational leap and help keep Microsoft ahead of the competition. My sources are telling me that this version of Hololens will not arrive until 2019.

Yes, 2019 is a considerable amount of time away but for Microsoft, if they would have built what was known as version two, the company would not be able to get version three delivered by 2019. In short, the company is making a bet that the advancements they are investing in today for the v3 version of Hololens are significant enough and add enough value to the product that it will make sure they continue to lead the segment by getting that device to the market earlier.

Of course, it’s always possible the device arrives before then but do not expect a new device this year and likely nor will one arrive next year, based on what I have been told. I did reach out to Microsoft for comment and they provided the following statement but it’s generic and doesn’t add any new context to the information already provided:

“Mixed reality is the future of computing, and Microsoft HoloLens is the future and present of mixed reality. Our commitment requires no roadmap”

It’s important to note that Microsoft is continuing to invest heavily into improving version one with updated software. The company has acquired new talent through acquisitions and onboarding of new employees that will allow it to further enhance the version of Hololens that you can buy today. Seeing as no other vendor is shipping a product right now, the acceleration of a device for 2019 makes sense as it gets a superior product to market faster and with no competition today, this appears to be the right approach.

While some may see this as bad news that a cheaper version of HoloLens will not arrive this year or likely next year, by accelerating the technology that will bring us the expanded field of view with a smaller footprint, the new roadmap allows for a device that is usable in everyday life to arrive sooner.

Microsoft is playing for the long-term with this technology to make sure they are well positioned for the next revolution in computing. By adjusting their path today for HoloLens, they are making sure that they remain the segment leader for years to come.

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Comments (48)

48 responses to “Microsoft Accelerates HoloLens V3 Development, Sidesteps V2”

  1. BradWestness

    I would bet money that the V2 they were developing on didn't do enough to alleviate the "mail slot" issue and was therefore scrapped in favor of fast-tracking a V3 which hopefully will.

    • SRLRacing

      In reply to BradWestness:

      I agree that this probably is the case. It would probably be better to wait and deliver a superior product that will wow consumers without the comment "it's amazing but the field of view..."

      First impressions for consumers will be massively important and shape the future of the device.

    • yaddamaster

      In reply to BradWestness:
      I tried hololens. I was blown away and the "mail slot" issue was a non-factor.
      If the issue is that MS simply couldn't get the price down to a reasonable level then I could perhaps understand. But I have no confidence a V3 version in 2019 will be down to a consumer level price.
      yet again MS squanders a lead

  2. skane2600

    Is there really some big technical secret about how to do AR that only MS knows that would indicate that MS is "far ahead"? Perhaps other companies are working on similar products in secret or are waiting to see if there's a viable market for it. Historically it doesn't take competitors all that long to catch up on new products once they've proven themselves. Often those competitors become the market leader. Being first isn't quite the advantage it was even a decade ago.

    • Ugur

      Yeah, i agree, itn tech it's often the companies who come into a category later but then release a better total package in price, usability and design which become the leaders for a while.
      MS has a lead for a while but then not releasing an upgraded iteration for another 3 years? Yeah, sounds too sure of oneself to me.
  3. gerosan

    Again, if Microsoft or Alex Kipman did not directly say it with specifics, then it means nothing. Rumors are rumors and are just intended to "sway" the audience. For me, I'm just waiting for the conferences for any announcements. Thanks for sharing your info though! :)

  4. HellcatM

    I've been thinking for a while that they should do a hybrid AR/VR device. If they can do that, and even if it costs as much as other VR devices I think people would but it. I wonder if its possible that V3 could be this device.

    • Ugur

      In reply to HellcatM: Yeah, some aspects are useful in both, like inside out environment tracking and some are pushing on AR+VR devices, like MS Windows Holographic alliance with it's partners explicitly mentioned AR+VR headsets in one as one future outlook several time.
      It makes sense further out for some devices but is not possible in ideal form right away because the tech to do AR and VR headsets in ideal form right now is still in several aspects so bulky that having both integrated in one is not doable with ideal usability for both yet.
      When one thinks about it VR is best when it is most immersive, so has display tech with largest field of view and a headset/glasses which completely covers your entire field of view off from the outside world, whereas with AR, while ideal when the overlayed AR content spans your entire field of view, too, it should also allow you to see as much as possible of the outside world "behind" the AR content at the same time, too.
      Integrating those two (scree/display tech covering full view and one not getting in your view of reality at all) is not trivial to combine.

  5. Roger Ramjet

    Highly likely that they believe the v2 would have landed with a turd. What with the underwhelming performance of VR headsets that did enter the market, like Oculus. They probably figured (a) the technology as it would be in v2, is not ready enough yet, including usability, price point etc (b) there isn't yet enough compelling applications out there to utilize the technology. Pushing it out allows them to deal with these two items better, although it is possible that it just never happens for AR/VR as currently envisioned in the hype cycle by all these players, in the consumer space (i.e. as the next big thing comparable to say mobile phones, or PCs before them). Without a doubt though, there are many obvious killer app opportunities for AR in work/productivity verticals where 3D mixed reality would be very useful, training scenarios and things like that, but these aren't anything like a computer on every desk. But I guess once it takes hold there, it would eventually migrate to more consumer use later on, but in that scenario we are talking about a much slower process, and the eventual use penetration much lower than primary devices. In short it could become comparable to say tablets, or game boxes, which isn't too bad, but again, not at very high growths which is what makes vast riches.  

    • Ugur

      In reply to Roger Ramjet: VR has not entered with underwhelming performance at all if one has realistic expectations for a new device category in baby steps days.
      The actual problem there is that in our fast lived internet days if something isn't a blockbuster hit in year 1 it is declared failed by many.
      It's just an unrealistic stance, pretty much no other device we see as big category today has been a blockbuster in it's early first few iterations.
      TVs, computers, cell phones, smartphones etc, all took many iterations until they came close to mass market adoption.
      To me it's perfectly reasonable that it will take many improvements over a good number of years to stepwise get closer and closer for AR and VR devices to get bigger and bigger adoption.
      The higher fidelity devices are still not where they have to be in fidelity for mass market adoption and at the same time in price ranges way too expensive to most average consumers and the lower fidelity devices are way more affordable but even way further away in fidelity that is convincing to most average consumers.
      But yes, for it to become more and more appealing to mass market, there should also be noticeable improvements every year and if MS would really not do one until 2019, others would likely jump in before.

  6. Luka Pribanić

    By waiting 2 years, they'll get sidelined as a company in this market as well. VR is as much competition as is any other AR, and we have 2-3 solid products here already. Also, software won't get developed if there is no hardware out there. I'm not counting "v1" as being commercially available, as it's as much use to mass market as is a 10.000$ golden smartphone - NO ONE will develop for a 100-people market.

    Only hope is for partners to release devices compatible with MS's AR/VR Win10 framework. If they push products for 2 years, then Valve and FB will make the market to themselves, as they'll have 2 years to upgrade their already excelent products with the capabilities of HoloLens

  7. Chris_Kez

    I'm trying hard to see the silver lining here, Brad, but four years between meaningful hardware revisions of a new category-defining product?

    This just sounds bad for anyone who was excited about Hololens.

  8. Jules Wombat

    Aka Google Glass and Windows Phone etc. Just kicking this technology into the long grass. HoloLens is far too cumbersome, poorly executed with weak performance (narow FoV) to ever be a success. Microsoft realised this, which is why they are silently killing it off.

    At least some other OEMs are now shipping realistic VR and AR products.

  9. gregsedwards

    So basically HoloLens is the opposite of Band.

  10. PeteB

    "Microsoft has a large lead in the AR space"

    Lead? Hololens doesn't even exist. Developers didn't bother to sign up for the $3000 dev unit because of the crappy mailslot FOV that MS never acknowledges, now they can't give Hololens dev units away. And MS has struggled to even come up with with a single killer app for it.

    The resident MS intern once again deluded by fantasy.. Or just copy/paste drivel from MS marketing.

  11. YouWereWarned

    "...Our commitment requires no roadmap"

    Wrong. Commitment implies discipline, and that's what roadmaps and milestones enforce. The pursuit of these hardware projects requires "we're betting the company urgency", because the winner in the space is likely doing just that. No urgency, no discipline--gets you third place, again.

    The major HoloLens negative is constrained FOV, and I'm not convinced the solution hinges upon faster processors, or bigger batteries that don't presently exist. If I am wrong, then hang the big, hot CPU and battery in a small pack on my belt for now, and dovote 100% to the FOV optics issues. Self-contained and wireless is not essential when there is a showstopper issue. Waiting for all of the technology to converge is a familiar error.

  12. Winner

    Isn't this like Windows Phone? Dropping the products but saying we haven't abandoned it? I know they're not dropping the current version per se, but given that it's not causing any big waves, Hololens is essentially dead for 2-3 more years, which is 5-6 years since original boom-bah announcement. Doesn't feel like any momentum to me from this huge multi-billion dollar company. Just like Windows Mobile.

  13. robincapper

    Finally got to try a Hololens recently. At least all the negative comments about field of view had lowered my expectations. Found it was really much better than I was expecting.

    What I did find interesting was how enthusiastic people were in a comparison where HTC Vive full VR was also available. I really don't think they are competition, AR is a new market alongside (not instead of) VR.

    Non-tethered and being able to relate to the real world (for design models) meant AR was much more approachable than full VR

  14. nbplopes

    We are slowly going back to the age were high price stuff works but poorly.

  15. Ugur

    The more i thought about this, the more i wondered whether this isn't a joke/trick to then come out at build and show a nice updated Hololens upgraded version.

    Because, come on, if this is real, that would be so ill advised. Like (if rumors are true), here we have an upgraded version in the works which is lighter and has longer battery life and/or various other improvements, but no, we're not gonna ship it so instead we keep on selling the worse version onwards until 2019? that doesn't make any sense at all.

  16. EricWhite12

    These were some great updates

  17. Chris_Kez

    How is it possible they haven't been able to make meaningful progress on the hardware in two years?

    Is V1 from the future? Is it alien technology they're trying to reverse engineer??

    • webdev511

      In reply to Chris_Kez:

      My guess (and it's only that) is that there wasn't any value in a v2 with the same ARM cpu. They really need production versions of the Qualcomm 835 before they can move forward. All the thing that need to be improved from V1 (wider FOV, less bulky device, etc.) really scream for a more powerful, more efficient CPU/GPU. There's really no point in an incremental release that tweaks the form factor & nothing else.

    • Jeff Jones

      In reply to Chris_Kez:

      They may be waiting for CPU/GPU technology to reach a certain point in order to get rid of the mail slot effect and create a full VR/AR all-in-one unit or something. If they think it would be possible in the next release from Intel then an intermediate product could be pointless.

      Also, I think 12Danny123 has a good point a few comments down. They may actually be trying to leave some room for OEMs to release slightly improved copies.

  18. Ugur

    Mistake imho, they should release an incremental update asap once they can improve the fov just a little and generally an update per year is better than no update for so long while there are still so many things to improve (a lot).

    I wouldn't mind them not doing an updated device for a while once it doesn't have the mailbox view limitation anymore, but until then, yeah, any update they can do which reduces that issue even just a tad further would be extremely welcome.

  19. davidblouin

    heres hoping

  20. gregalto

    Excellent post Brad.

  21. david.thunderbird

    I seen this foopah done by MS many times since the 70's I'll never see hololens in my lifetime.

  22. TheJoeFin

    I would be happy with just dropping the price of V1 in the meantime. Looking forward to some serious improvements in the next released version.

  23. Bart

    Interesting. Can't help but think that Windows on ARM has something to do with this. Much better battery life is essential IMHO

  24. HoloLensman

    Look at the processor/chipset roadmaps for 2019. Interesting.

  25. glenn8878

    Sounds like vaporware. Microsoft's lead doesn't mean anything if you can't buy it. A released product is better than delayed perfection for the competitor can gain by having parity if not superiority. Anyways, bypassing v2 doesn't mean v3 isn't v2. v3 is an augmented v2. They still need to do the work of v2 plus modify it for v3.

  26. woelfel

    Jesus, 2 years. would hope that it will the price of the HoloLens would go down this year.

    MS new devices roadmap from my perspective:

    2017 - Xbox One Scorpio

    2018 - Surface Mobile (phone)

    2019 - HoloLens (consumer)

  27. kenhes

    It's critical that their partners release something before 2019. Heck, even Magic Leap will have something by then. If you just look at the tablet market, norms refers to tablets as ipads because it was first to market.

  28. mikeghou

    Sounds like they are giving it to the Windows Phone group, if you know what I mean.

  29. Waethorn

    "the acceleration of a device for 2019 makes sense as it gets a superior product to market faster and with no competition today, this appears to be the right approach"

    No competition?!? There's a reason for this. VR is a fad. AR is a niche of a fad.

  30. 12Danny123

    It's also important to note that Microsoft has Licensed Windows Holographic to OEMs. So it's entirely possible that OEMs will fill that slot this year with their own MR headsets and VR headsets.

    • allanwith

      In reply to 12Danny123:

      Exactly, you'd think that would have been an important factor in the decision as well. Maybe even going so far as to wanting to make sure there was room in the marketplace for partners and wanting it to be about partners and platform first and foremost. Own devices are meant to be technologically inspiring ... to partners.

      • annacourt

        In reply to allanwith:

        What do you think the chances are of the OEMs actually filling in the gap? It doesn't seem like the best factor in such a decision. I can only guess that the 835 chip is key and this iterative release required too many resources, which are being placed on version 3. That also has other risks. Maybe we'll get an official answer at some point.

        • 12Danny123

          In reply to annacourt:

          If OEMs released their own HoloLens clones to developers, its likely going to contain a higher clocked Atom chip. V2 was an incremental improvement.

          There is no downside in having PC OEMs releasing their HoloLens clones. It's not like they're going to be sued, Microsoft has patent protection regarding HoloLens design and tech.

          It's also a way for PC OEMs to get a footing while MS works on their V3 and develop their user base and developer base as well while also having a cheaper price.

    • Winner

      In reply to 12Danny123:

      Sort of like how outside companies are embracing UWP?

      I see this as wishful thinking.

  31. Awhispersecho

    This is actually a perfect example of everything wrong with MS. Get people excited about a product, then push the product down the line for "the next big thing" and alienate those that were excited about the product. There will be tons of other AR headsets by then including Google and Apple plus the other OEM's Microsoft is licensing this too.

    HTC and Oculus already have a 2nd-gen VR products planned and HTC says it will be out this year. If they can release next gen versions of VR headsets in a year and a half, there is no reason releasing gen 2 of Hololens in 2017 should mean they can't get gen 3 ready in another 2 years. What is it with this company that takes them forever to do anything which always ends up making them too late to each market they should already be in.

    This is Windows Phone all over again. This is we can't release a new product until we have a new OS version all over again. This is a perfect example of why MS is and will be less and less relevant in the consumer space. This is why more and more people are abandoning ship.

    If, and I have my doubts about this but if they want to remain a consumer company, they cannot count on PC's going forward, they need Mobile, they need AR. I have never seen a company managed as poorly as them nor a company that can't seem to ever just put 1 foot in front of the other and simply walk forward.

  32. epilu

    Will Hololens 3 still be a developer headset or general market?