Microsoft and Google have been warring each other in the desktop and mobile software worlds for years. Now, their battle is coming to your face.
At a Windows 10 launch event today, Alex Klipman,the guy behind Microsoft’s Kinect, unveiled the company's latest hardware creation: a hands-free, cord-free augmented reality headset called the HoloLens. Like Google Glass, the HoloLens goggles are a self-contained computer that will display information to users in their field of vision. Unlike Google Glass, HoloLens will do much more than show you mapping directions and read you your e-mail. The sleek headset will use sensors, an embedded sound system, and special lenses to create a perspective on reality that is out of this world, according to Kipman.
In an interview with Wired, Kipman broke down the HoloLens's function. He explained that the device will allow viewers to see the world around them interspersed with realistic holograms by “tricking your brain” into seeing light as matter. This cool video gives us a taste of what this might look like: a world where users can tour virtual buildings in 3-D, play Minecraft in mid-air, and put a layer of virtual reality on top of their everyday lives. (Or, as the company puts it, “break down the walls between technology and people.”)
Strictly speaking, the HoloLens isn't a holograph machine – it's an augmented reality headset, similar to the one Google-backed Magic Leap is reportedly working on. Wired’s Jessi Hempel writes that the project is part of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's plan to restore the onetime innovation leader to its perch. "You need a culture that is fundamentally not opposed to new concepts and new capabilities," Nadella told the magazine.
The HoloLens is still very much in prototype stage, and details on pricing or availability haven't been released. But it's a VR footrace now. Facebook's Oculus is also trying to get its Rift headsets to the mass market, and reportedly plans to release them to consumers sometime this year. ("We're very close," Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe told a crowd last November.) Similar devices from Sony and other manufacturers are expected to follow in short order.
It's not clear yet what the killer apps for augmented reality devices will be, or how these devices will prove themselves worthy of their price tags. (One obstacle will be aesthetic: people wearing the HoloLens look just as geeky to the outside world as people wearing Oculus Rift or Google Glass.) But with the amount of investment being made in the sector, and the quickening pace of the VR arms race, 2015 could be the year we finally start to see real progress toward escaping our boring, un-augmented lives.
"I write about the future (Associate Producer at @ThisIsFusion).
I write about the past (publisher of #OGToldMe).
Oakland, CA raised me."