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Microsoft’s Hololens isn’t just a consumer toy, it’s an opportunity for the enterprise

Jessica Groopman
hololens

There’s a new wearable in town. And it has the tech world abuzz because we really haven’t seen anything like it. Not in real-life anyway.

Let’s Just Admit It: Hololens is Incredibly Cool

Microsoft went public with its new connected headgear called Hololens last week. Hololens is essentially a headset with glasses that augments ‘holograms.’ These can be objects, dynamic interfaces or environments that users can see, hear, and interact with in real-time. The interface? Your eyes, for navigating. Your hands, for creating, shaping and selecting. Your voice, for communicating. And your body for informing context. Digital content (we’re supposed to call them holograms) look as real as physical objects and features in the room. The Hololens maps its environment (e.g. your living room) and automatically blends selected holograms into the physical features, rendering the room the users’ canvas for holographic projects, applications, and games.

This is an Enterprise Play in (Sexy) Consumer Clothing

Microsoft’s snazzy promotional video showcases the immense sexy factor (no doubt a tease for developers and investors), but it also illustrates a number of compelling use cases for the device. Some of these, like playing games or scrolling through Netflix are clearly consumer-facing (key for sparking buzz.) But others are clearly meant for the business world.

  • Collaboration: Wearing the headgear, an employee walks through the office while Skyping with co-workers, discussing status and shared files
  • Design: An employee visualizes the product in development, pulls up a hologram to manipulate its dimensions and ideate with another in real-time
  • Education: One person provides installation instructions to another, not only via video chat, but by being able to see what the installer can see-- and draw instructions right on the screen

Consider the impact across business units: more efficiency in service, marketing, sales, innovation, operations, HR; indeed collaboration across all functions.

A Bold Move in a Crowded, but Surprisingly Quiet Ecosystem

The smart glasses space has been far less prolific than its other wearable neighbors (e.g. fitness trackers, smartwatches). And in the wake of Google Glass (R.I.P.), the B2C smart glasses space consists of virtual reality systems such as Facebook’s Oculus, and notification engines, like Recons. (There was buzz that Samsung would release smart glasses before the end of last year, but so far it’s still just buzz.) Most others, (CES darlings, for instance) have yet to move beyond pre-order. In the B2B space, the most advanced smart eyewear goes to Epson’s Moverio Smart Glasses, which boasts more patents than both Google and Apple.

In many ways, Microsoft’s Hololens is dropping a bomb on an extremely green market-- a market whose activations to date have left something to be desired. Google is still licking its wounds from Glass’s demise, (at least until it opens the kimono on MagicLeap, its mysterious $542M augmented reality (?) acquisition), Epson continues to stay in the B2B space, and Apple remains characteristically tightlipped, which is a huge opportunity for Hololens, so long as it does the following:

  • Move swiftly: Microsoft claims the product will ship by the end of 2015. Competition is fierce.
  • Make sure it works: The potential for friction in first generation tech is high-- especially without the UI components we already know (e.g. mouse, keyboard, touchscreen); adoption relies on seamlessness, intuitiveness, value-creation, and instant gratification.
  • Bring sexy back: Capitalize on the enchantment (inspire developers and investors); bring sexy back for Microsoft; bring sexy back for wearables and mobile in general. Enterprise adoption of Blackberry phones paved the way for mass adoption of smartphones; perhaps Hololens could do so for wearables?

As we peer through the [tinted] lens of how Hololens will fare, many factors remain unclear, namely cost, battery life, and how ‘tethered’ the device will be to other components (e.g. power pack, laptop, etc.). We can’t help but remain sober,  considering how its older, clunkier smart eyewear counterparts fared. Still, the ‘vision’ of augmenting our entire world has never seemed so close-- we can almost touch it.