At the end of April, Microsoft wowed developers and the media with yet another demo of its new HoloLens headset.
The HoloLens is essentially a computer you wear on your face. But instead of interacting through a keyboard, mouse, or touchscreen, the HoloLens projects 3-D images in front of you that you can reach out and touch. And based on the demos we’ve seen so far, it looks really cool.
Microsoft is far from being the first big tech company to explore the idea of computers that we wear in front of our eyes. Google unveiled Google Glass back in 2012 — a head-mounted computer that’s a lot smaller than HoloLens, and doesn’t project images in 3-D.
But the device never really took off, and Google has yet to officially release a version of the gadget for everyday consumers. Now, reports suggest that Google is pivoting Glass to focus solely on enterprise and industrial use cases, rather than as a cool gadget for adventurous early adopters.
Facebook is also heavily invested in the Oculus Rift; it bought Oculus VR for $US2 billion in March 2014.
Although Google, Microsoft, and Facebook are all making big bets on computerised eyewear (even Snapchat bought a Google Glass-like startup, Vergence Labs), there are significant hurdles to face. Not only do you have to create something so incredible that people will be compelled to strap it to your face, but Glass was slammed by privacy advocates too.
We talked to a few people who worked on Google Glass to get their thoughts on the HoloLens and what it would take to make these kinds of devices succeed.
Here’s the gist of what they said:
- People still aren’t comfortable wearing these things in public. One of the biggest hurdles with wearable displays is that they don’t look natural — Google Glass and the current version of the HoloLens both look like computers strapped to your face rather than eyeglasses or sunglasses. “I think people in general will be uncomfortable with it for now just because it brings attention to them, and sometimes people don’t like that attention,” Beau Hanley, who worked as a marketing specialist for Google X until December, told Business Insider.
- Microsoft should have learned its lesson from Google. Based on recent reports, it seems like Google has been re-thinking its strategy regarding Glass. One former Googler thinks Microsoft should have picked up on this. “I’m fascinated that Microsoft has not learned the lesson that Google spent so much money teaching the world,” Margot Boyer-Dry, head of marketing at Poncho who previously worked in marketing and business development for Google Glass, said. “They had a massive case study sitting right in front of them.”
- The smaller and more discrete the interactions are, the better. Based on Microsoft’s demos, it seems like you interact with the HoloLens by overtly reaching out and touching objects that are seemingly invisible to the world around you. Hanley thinks that more discrete actions are more likely to resonate with consumers, although he doesn’t have an opinion regarding whether or not HoloLens would be more popular than Google Glass. “I think the minimal amount of interaction is the best,” Hanley said. “If you’re walking down the street and putting your hands out and moving them in weird ways, that might not be something people are comfortable with in a public setting.”
- It needs a really great personal assistant to tie the experience together. Simon Smith, who worked as a UX Manager for Google Glass until July 2014, stressed the importance of having a strong personal assistant like Google Now integrated into the headset. “You really need a gatekeeper,” he said. “You can’t just let all of these things that interrupt you on your phone just seamlessly interrupt you on a wearable device.” Presumably, the HoloLens will work with Microsoft’s own virtual assistant Cortana.