Microsoft Announces the Next HoloLens

Posted on February 24, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 63 Comments

Four years ago, Microsoft surprised us with HoloLens, its standalone augmented reality headset. At the time, HoloLens was yet another target for Universal Windows Apps (UWPs), albeit it an admittedly unique one. But despite the slow uptake failure of Microsoft’s modern apps platform, and the failure of some of the device types that supported it, HoloLens has endured, and it’s found great success in certain vertical markets. Those successes, no doubt, influenced the direction that Microsoft took for this new version of the device, called HoloLens 2.

And to be clear, HoloLens is a success, with hundreds of thousands of users across many industries.

Many believe that I’m no fan of HoloLens because I’ve criticized its narrow field of view, which I’ve likened to a mail slot. That’s not fair, actually, or accurate: Yes, the field of view is an issue. But the central point of HoloLens—its ability to fool your eyes and mind into rooting virtual objects that Microsoft calls holograms into your perception of the real world—is so successful that it can be described as magic. That’s job one, and I’ve always thought that improving the field of view was just a technical challenge that Microsoft would assuredly fix in subsequent revisions.

And here we are.

Well, sort of. You may have heard that Microsoft originally planned to ship a second-generation HoloLens headset two years ago, and that the software giant canceled that revision because it was too small an update. The version we’re seeing today for the first time is thus technically the third version, but however you choose to describe its lineage, it is indeed a worthy successor to the original, and it comes with key improvements to address some current challenges.

HoloLens 2 correctly adopts the ARM-based Qualcomm Snapdragon platform, which, unlike with PCs, comes with absolutely no downside at all. HoloLens only runs UWP apps anyway, and those apps can be made to work on ARM somewhat effortlessly. This lets the new HoloLens take advantage of the Snapdragon’s core strengths vs. Intel hardware—like battery longevity—without compromise. Windows 10 on ARM may or may not eventually make sense on PCs. But it absolutely makes sense on HoloLens.

There are some form factor changes, which were leaked ahead of Microsoft’s announcement, resulting in a smaller, lighter, and more comfortable design. This new design is much lighter, much more comfortable, and has much better weight distribution.

But there are bigger, more substantive changes too.

Key among them is a feature I actually first revealed a few weeks back, that HoloLens supports what I called “hand tracking.” It works in tandem with another new feature, eye tracking, making it easier and more natural for users to interact with virtual objects without needing to use complicated controllers. Instead, they can simply use their hands, more naturally. They can “feel” holograms and interact with them directly.

Also key is that field of view issue. And sure enough, Microsoft has doubled the field of view in HoloLens 2 while retaining the resolution and quality of the original device. It’s basically two 2K displays, and represents a “generational leap” over the original, Microsoft says.

HoloLens 2 is also customizable via the HoloLens Customization Program so that companies can create special versions of the product that meet their unique needs. As an example, a construction company designed a version of HoloLens 2 with a built-in hardhat so that it can be used on-site during construction projects.

Finally, HoloLens 2 is significantly less expensive than its predecessor, though it’s still quite expensive. The standalone enterprise bundle is about $3500, down from $5000. And you can basically subscribe to the hardware for $150 per month.

But it’s clear now, too, that Microsoft does have a plan to bring HoloLens and its AR capabiltiies to consumers at some point. A surprise appearance by Epic CEO Tim Sweeney, a long-time critic of Microsoft and its online store, was perhaps even more notable for his promise that all of Epic’s endeavors would one day be enabled on HoloLens. Epic is, of course, a game maker.

Before that, HoloLens 2 will serve the same growing group of vertical markets in which its predecessor has found success. And based on what we saw today, that success is only going to grow.

I’m looking forward to trying out HoloLens 2.

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Comments (63)

63 responses to “Microsoft Announces the Next HoloLens”

  1. Avatar

    dcdevito

    The hand tracking is quite impressive. It seems really fantastic, it's just a shame I'll probably never use one.

  2. Avatar

    Tony Barrett

    Let's be clear - this is not a consumer product, and likely never will be. AR/VR has pretty much failed with consumers - again - and that's on devices costing a fraction of the Hololens. I do see that some markets could use devices like this though - but it's a small market - tiny infact - one of the reasons MS price it as they do. Even at 54deg though, the FoV is still very limited, so that still has to be taken into consideration. Other issues - battery life, comfort over long periods, robustness are all still unproven. The recent contract MS signed with the US military is also now coming under doubt, as Microsoft's own staff push back at the deal. Hololens as a technical experiment is interesting, but as a commercial product, it's not even close.

  3. Avatar

    gregsedwards

     Just prior to the end of 2018, it was announced (leaked? speculated?) that Microsoft would be releasing one or maybe a pair of new webcams: one that would be compatible with Xbox and another for PC. How closely are these cameras related to the Azure Kinect device? I suspect they're not one in the same, because I think consumers would expect an Xbox camera to cost less than the Xbox console itself.

  4. Avatar

    Finley

    With the not so great success of the Microsoft store on PC's I wouldn't be surprised if the approach of opening the OS to third party stores goes further than the Hololens.

  5. Avatar

    peten1020

    So, just to be clear: is now the field of view large enough or not?

  6. Avatar

    lordbaal1

    "The version we’re seeing today for the first time is thus technically the third version" How? They cancel the 2nd one. So this is the second one.

    • Avatar

      BrianEricFord

      In reply to lordbaal1:


      Yeah. Between that, and somehow deeming V1 a success because hundreds of thousands have sold — given the way he constantly talks about the “failures” of other company’s products that measure in the many millions — it’s kinda hard to take the opinion seriously.


      i guess those other companies should just claim something is an “enterprise” product and wallow in their sudden turnaround to astronomical success.

    • Avatar

      locust infested orchard inc

      In reply to lordbaal1:


      What Paul wrote is correct. The original second iteration of HoloLens was sidestepped (almost exactly two years to the day, as reported by Brad Sams on 19th Feb 2017), in favour of further advancing the technology for two primary reasons, first the market for AR/MR was small two years ago, and second, competitors such as Magic Leap had announced they too were working on similar products, and Microsoft didn't want their (possibly less superior) product to be compared to a competitor's newer (and possibly more powerful product).


      The product just launched at MWC is the third iteration of HoloLens, but naming it HoloLens v3 wouldn't make any sense to those unfamiliar with the development of HoloLens, hence v2 it is.


      For the full in-depth coverage to the sidestepping of the second iteration of HoloLens, I recommend you read Brad Sams' article at:


      https://www.thurrott.com/hardware/90780/microsoft-accelerates-hololens-v3-development-sidesteps-v2


  7. Avatar

    pherbie

    You are looking forward to trying it out....to do what exactly? How will you even try it out?


    I'm struggling with where this device fits in with everything else that Microsoft is doing. Is it so vertical i cannot see it?

  8. Avatar

    Chris_Kez

    Having just watched the full keynote, the thing I'm most struck by is the focus on their partnerships and having this thing used in real world productivity. Having Tim Sweeney come up on stage moments after Alex Kipman talks about their commitments to being open and cross-platform sends a message to developers. I'm much more impressed with the total package they've presented than I expected to be.

  9. Avatar

    Tim Fermont

    To all the consumer critics here, wait a couple of years. As a military C4ISR specialist I can guarantee you that this tech is not going to go away, on the contrary. This is the missing technology piece for true network-centric warfare. This is the holy grail to finaly immerse the soldier into the Battlefield Management System (giving him life saving BFT&ESR and true Situational Awareness through an AR tactical Common Operational Picture, sensor and weapon system integration, ...). We don't just want this, we need this. We'll make this tech affordable for you.

  10. Avatar

    wftw2016

    I'm at the MWC and just had the demo. The version 2 is comfortable to wear, field of view is far above sufficient. It does not extend into your peripheral view but it doesn't need to. Interaction with objects is quite intuitive. The ability to flip the visor is a good addition. I'm impressed!


  11. Avatar

    dontbe evil

    meanwhile already fr 4 year "tech giants" like apple, google and samung ... can only look at the hololens, they have NOTHING comparable

    • Avatar

      locust infested orchard inc

      Quote by dontbe_evil, "...they [Apple, Google, Samsung] have nothing comparable [to HoloLens]"


      I beg to differ.


      Orchard Inc. has invested huge swathes of their cash into R&D into the development of the 2018 trio of iNotches. Now come on, a round of applause for such engineering ingenuity.


      SameSong ('SameSong', because the South Korean conglomerate ripped off the specially commissioned soundtrack for Microsoft's inaugural launch of the Surface Studio, which SameSong used for the launch of their Galaxy Flop a few days earlier) has been working tirelessly with their foldable Blandroid that can magnificently multitask up to three apps (the 1990 Windows 3.1 was fully multitasking and more immersive as an OS than Blandroid will ever be) and has a poor 4.6" front display. Even Huawei's foldable response with their Marmite X (because you'll either love it, or hate it – only the Brits will understand the nature of Marmite; for everyone else, refer to https://wikipedia.org/wiki/Marmite), puts the Galaxy Flop to shame.


      Finally Adoogle. Well it continues to pour its cash reserves, time and effort into engaging in Chrominality with their Chrime OS.

  12. Avatar

    biff

    Throughout the entire presentation, the experience was referred to as "mixed reality". Gone is the legacy term "augmented reality". Makes sense as "mixed reality" is a named part of Microsoft Windows.

  13. Avatar

    the_real_entheos

    The only thing remotely interesting from Microsoft, yet not for consumers.

  14. Avatar

    shmuelie

    I still want to know about a developer edition!

  15. Avatar

    chaad_losan

    Now they just need to make one that is $500. Good luck with that!

    • Avatar

      rm

      In reply to chaad_losan:That will not be a problem. They don't have to keep everything on your head for consumer models. There are also wireless video technologies in the works. So, the specialized and expensive computer on HoloLens 2 will not be needed on a consumer device. Also, all of the tech will come at a lower price regardless.


  16. Avatar

    jtdwab

    What are the chances MS will do a gaming/consumer version of the headset talk at E3 this year. We know they are coming to E3 with stuff to show and had Epic on stage during this release. Got to wonder if an Xbox version of HoloLens in on the way.

  17. Avatar

    eshy

    "down from $500." You're missing a 0 there.


    $3500 is a great price for companies, this is an investment and can save time and money for various tasks.

    I don't think there's any serious competition for Microsoft in the business augmented reality field

  18. Avatar

    eric_rasmussen

    In some ways, I'm actually more excited about their announcement of the Azure Kinect SDK than HoloLens 2. Don't get me wrong, HoloLens 2 is insanely cool, but it's about what I expected to see for a generational leap of the device. Being fully manufactured with Carbon Fiber means HoloLens 2 is very durable and lightweight, but it also likely contributes to the cost of the device. A consumer version made with ABS or some other kind of durable plastic would greatly reduce the price. The hand articulation tracking is amazing, but that brings me back to Azure Kinect.


    With Azure Kinect, I can actually think of a few different ways I could use this right now in my IoT projects. It offers similar gesture tracking as what is built in to the HoloLens 2 headset. Being able to interface with a device that understands voice, gestures, and its surrounding environment right out of the box is huge. It's a great way to bring some of the HoloLens 2 tech to creators - which fits in perfectly with Satya's message during his introduction to the event.


    I'm coming away from this press event very impressed. Great job, Microsoft.


    EDIT: I just saw the integration of AR between HoloLens and an iPad. Letting people use traditional devices to participate in holographic experiences is amazing. This is more than a generational leap forward, very cool. I'm now wondering if the Azure spatial anchor services are also available to app developers... so cool!

  19. Avatar

    skane2600

    "And to be clear, HoloLens is a success, with hundreds of thousands of users across many industries."


    So, considerably less successful than the Windows Phone.

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