"When you change the way you see the world, you change the world you see."
That’s what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella believes and it is one of the founding principles of the Hololens experience, but can a update, some four years in the making, allow Microsoft’s Augmented Reality vision to come to life?
We managed to grab a demo of the new HoloLens 2 headset at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona before the device goes on sale later this year.
Huge design changes make it akin to wearing a hat
There are three key changes to the HoloLens experience and the most notable is the design. It's now much lighter than before, thanks in part to a move to use carbon fibre, and that means its considerably more comfortable to wear. Microsoft has drastically reduced the weight, expanded the size of the cushion that sits at the back of your head and made changes to the front visor element too. If you’ve tried the first one, which is a bit of a bore to put on it’s a huge leap forward.
That visor now also flips up and that means when you aren't using the device you can talk to people face to face – something that is definitely welcomed, and both putting on and taking off the HoloLens 2 is akin to putting on a hat.
We only wore the device for around 10 minutes, but it's certainly more comfortable. Microsoft has told us these changes have been made, following feedback, to allow users to wear the device all day rather than for just a few hours.
New tech specs mean its now a lot more powerful
The second big change is the underlying technology that powers it all. It's basically been reworked from the ground up, not only to make it faster and more immersive, but to increase the capabilities of the HoloLens 2 well beyond what it was previously capable of. There are speakers and mics for listening and talking. Cameras for eye tracking and retinal-scanning to make logging in quick and easy, and a drastically increased field of view.
The screen is about twice the size of what it was before. It was one of our biggest complaints of the first model, and it’s really great to see it fixed in the HoloLens 2.
The increased view of field of view and eye tracking means you don't have to move your head as much and that will also help with making it more comfortable to use for long stints of time.
But it’s not just the screen that's new. The HoloLens 2 also now has eye tracking and hand tracking making things a lot easier. You no longer have to double tap your fingers to select things, but can simply reach out and touch it - as we found when a virtual hummingbird hoovered over our stretched out hand or we had to interact with menus.
Getting value rather than being an expensive experiment
The third pillar, so to speak, is about adding value. This is more about Microsoft ensuring that out of the box you can actually do something with it fairly quickly and for businesses ensure a fairly quick return on investment. While Microsoft's long term plans involve consumers it's clear from the discussions we've had that this is very much an "enterprise play" at the moment as it tries to build scale which will in turn reduce the cost – it’s $3,500 at the moment.
Using HoloLens 2
We experienced a 10 minute role play demo that saw us run through a number of step-by-step instructions to fit an electric cable in an aircraft pylon. Exciting we know.
And it's here that you can really see the huge potential HoloLens 2 has to offer. The idea is that highly experienced experts in their field can creat a "guide" that then others can follow.
The demo started by showing us an instruction card that we could read and follow. Out the bottom of the card came a virtual dotted line with an arrow at the end that tells us exactly where to start. To move to the next step in the guide we merely have to look at the "next" box for a few seconds (thanks to that eye tracking feature) and suddenly the virtual overlay of what we are seeing on the part we are fixing has changed.
Now we're getting exact directions of what we are to do next and which bits to avoid. Our task continues onwards involving us feeding a cable through a part of the pylon that we can’t actually see in real life.
In a virtual world that's not a problem though. The software has the CAD drawing of the parts and so it’s mapped them on the physical part so we can see clearly. It's like having x-ray vision, and we liked it.
A few more steps and we’ve completed the task. Success, but where things get interesting is unaware to us at the time, the system has recorded everything we’ve been doing and how well we followed and completed the instructions.
Why? Well according to Microsoft, it allows the guide creator to see how well their instructions have been followed and if there is issues with the clarity of the tasks they'll be able to see, fix and adapt the task and then retest to make the guide more efficient. To some, that's going to be so incredibly valuable.
Why this could have the power to change everything
Our demo might have been brief, but it is fairly obvious that this has the potential to change the way we fix big complex things in the world around us.
We were able to follow a series of instructions to fit something we had never done before without having to take our eye of the task at hand. There was no precariously balancing a manual on the machinery, no having to look at complex engineering diagrams, in fact it was as easy, if not easier than following a set of Lego instructions.
Okay, so you aren't going to see people walking down the street wearing HoloLens 2 any time soon, but what it will allow is unskilled people to learn how to do very skilled jobs.
While Microsoft is focusing its efforts on big enterprise businesses like fixing aircrafts or helping Pearson offering training manuals to would be doctors we can easily see this being used by mechanics in your local garage to fix your engine or engineers on a construction site looking at whether a building is delivering on certain criteria.
Nadella's vision of changing the world we can potential see rings true. The HoloLens 2 successfully overlays a world of data on a world that we exist in and not only shows the huge potential of what is possible, but where this will go in the future.
It might look big and cumbersome now, but you can imagine within a decade the HoloLens 2 has the potential to change the workplace forever, and for the better.