At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Technical Fellow Alex Kipman (best title ever for a fellow who has a tech-related job) mounted the stage to announce that after four years, Microsoft had a successor to the HoloLens. HoloLens 2 is here, and it's less of a consumer device than ever. That's not a bad thing.
Next-gen improvements include a flip-up visor, lighter weight, more centered balance, and a new fit system that purports to make wearing the headset for long periods of time more comfortable. On the more technical front, the new version has double the field of view of the original, a new time-of-flight sensor, and new eye-tracking sensors. Microsoft says you can also now interact with holograms more naturally and instinctually, just like you would with physical objects in the real world. That capability is borne out of the fourth generation of Microsoft's Kinect technology in tandem with AI tools, taking the fun gesture-recognition gameplay technology and making it truly useful.
More interesting in terms of real-world usefulness, Microsoft has developed ways you can easily make guides for training using Dynamics 365. For example, if you want to show a new employee how to repair an engine, you can overlay directions on top of the physical device to show things as nuanced as which specific tool you need and how to use it. Creating the guide, though, is the cool part; just pick various instruction items from a palette and drag and drop it into the guide. Then you can hand a new worker a HoloLens 2, pull up the guide they need, and set them on the task.
Although the HoloLens 2 works offline, it's really designed as an intelligent edge device that leverages the Azure cloud. Using the new Azure Spatial Anchors, you can create "holograms that persist in a specific physical space." The example Microsoft gave is that a clothing store manager could attach holographic images of outfits attached to mannequins that need to be dressed. "The next day, an employee could walk in, point an iPhone at each mannequin, see how it should be dressed and begin pulling clothes," reads a Microsoft blog post.
You can also make 3D digital models with the cloud-based Azure Remote Rendering service. The idea is that instead of crafting physical prototypes or architectural miniatures, you can create them digitally and share them holographically through HoloLens 2. Because they're digital, you can send the models to anyone who has a headset anywhere in the world.
The new hardware costs a cool $3,500, which is $500 more than the original HoloLens cost at launch. You'll also need to cough up some subscription fees to use the aforementioned cloud tools.
You'll note that none of the above appeals to consumers. It's not supposed to. More than anything, HoloLens 2 shows, with great clarity, that consumers are not in the Windows Mixed Reality equation. The original charming Skype and living room-fun mixed reality demos are long gone. How did we get here?