Microsoft returned to Mobile World Congress 2019 in Barcelona, Spain for the first time in three years to unveil the HoloLens 2, the next generation of the company's wearable holographic computing device.
The updated computer demonstrates Microsoft's awareness of the customer feedback it has received over the last four years, and the company has also implemented improvements in this second generation device to upgrade the user experience. Customer-requested improvements stemming from the original HoloLens included expanding the devices field of view, reducing its weight, and improving the comfort of the device.
HoloLens 2 addresses each one of these specifically:
- The field of view -- which was an often-discussed issue as more people began to use the original HoloLens -- is improved in the second generation device by a factor of two according to Microsoft. However, that expanded field of view can be hard to understand without a frame of reference and none was given during the product announcement. In response to questions on Twitter, Alex Kipman, aka the father of Hololens, took to Twitter to explain. He indicated the original HoloLens had a diagonal field of view of 34 degrees, while HoloLens 2 has a 52-degree diagonal field of view. The two times growth in the field of view is in the overall viewable area and the viewing quality was like upgrading each eye from a 720p TV to 2K. New cameras inside the headset can now track your eyes and use your gaze to interact with holograms plus they are Windows Hello compatible to log you directly into Windows with enterprise-level security and authentication.
- The overall weight of HoloLens 2 has been reduced thanks to the device having smaller computing components all around and printing parts of the headset with carbon-fiber material. The fit system has been improved so that once you have adjusted the headset to fit your head, it does not have to be loosened in order to remove it. That means it can be placed back on your head without any additional adjustments either. In addition, the front viewing area of the device now flips up so that you can fully interact with your environment without looking through the lenses. If you have seen this with the consumer mixed reality headsets, it is the same concept. Of course, like the original HoloLens, this device allows you to wear glasses easily without interfering with functionality or comfort.
On top of those improvements, the interaction with holograms has been improved using a new time-of-flight sensor, built-in AI and semantic understanding of how humans interact with an object in the real world and translate that into the holographic environment. That means you will still be able to use the gestures that worked with original HoloLens but also push buttons and adjust sliders all with haptic and sound based feedback. In other words, HoloLens 2 enables you to touch holograms and feel them in the holographic environment.
One new angle in this announcement compared to the original HoloLens unveiling back in January 2015 is the role of the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge in supporting enterprise and business customers through HoloLens 2.
HoloLens 2 was not the only new Microsoft product announced. The company also unveiled the following:
The Azure Kinect Development Kit (DK) -- This has its roots in the Xbox Kinect device Microsoft first built for their gaming consoles almost a decade ago. Now this new device includes AI sensors, HoloLens 2's time-of-flight sensor, a high definition RGB camera and a microphone array in a compact device. Combined together, these sensors will allow companies to develop computer vision and speech functionality using Microsoft Azure to provide capabilities to understand people, places and things around it. Key enterprise and business areas for Azure Kinect include manufacturing, healthcare and retail.
Dynamic 365 Guides -- Dynamics 365 Guides builds upon two previously released mixed reality apps - Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Layout. If you have seen demos of the original HoloLens, where a worker uses the device to be shown how to make a repair or report an issue with someone on a Skype call, then you understand the baseline for Dynamics 365 Guides. The big difference now is that Dynamics 365 Guides provides step-by-step instructions to firstline workers on how to make repairs and explains the tools and parts they need to accomplish those tasks. This can be used for on the job training to increase the workers skills and confidence as they learn the task at hand. Microsoft is also making a PC app available that will help you create this interactive content for your own work applications including the ability to add photos, videos, and 3D models for the hands-on experience.
Azure Mixed Reality Services -- Additional cloud computing capabilities from Azure for mixed reality include Azure Spatial Anchors and Azure Remote Rendering. Both of these services will allow companies to build mixed reality apps that mark, label and retrieve various points of interests that are then accessible across HoloLens, iOS and Android hardware plus rather than using local computer power on a mobile device to render the 3D objects, they are instead rendered in the cloud and then streamed in real time to the remote devices. This is all accomplished without losing details of the original 3D object.
The three preceding products demonstrate the company's determination to make HoloLens 2 the out-of-the-box solution for industry verticals looking to incorporate augmented reality into their stack.
HoloLens 2 is available on pre-order for enterprise customers with initial availability in the United States, Japan, China, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Australia and New Zealand. The device will cost less than the commercial version of the original HoloLens did by $1,500 with its price tag of just $3,500. Enterprise customers also have a bundle option available that includes Dynamics 365 Remote Assist at a cost of $125 per month.
I had the opportunity to try out the original HoloLens on multiple occasions over the last few years and I am looking forward to getting some hands-on time with Hololens 2 to really evaluate the overall improvements that have been made to the device.