Over the Winter Quarter, our Technology and Innovation Strategy class at Kellogg culminated in a final research paper. The paper looked at the shuttering of Google Glass and what Google’s next steps should be. As part of this, I got to look deeply into the current state of Virtual Reality, which I have been following and waiting for (hello Oculus!) since I was a child, and Augmented Reality. I will be posting portions of the paper (it’s quite long) in digestible chunks here over the next week. Our team was comprised of Melissa Caldwell, Raghu Chirravuri, Olga Gordon, Jeff Hoffman, and me, Michael Nguyen.
To see all of the sections, see my tag virtual reality.
Microsoft (Hololens – Augmented Reality)
The most direct threat to Google’s existing business is from Microsoft’s Hololens headset. Similar to Google Glass, Hololens is a stand-alone, untethered AR headset extended from the Xbox Kinect platform that will be released with the launch of Windows 10 by the end of 2015. Hololens differs from Glass, as it has a full computing platform built within the headset. Running on Windows 10, this headset can project images not just on top (as Google Glass) of what the user sees, but also can place 3D holographic objects into the real world and allow people to interact with those objects naturally with hands, fingers, and voice. This functionality means a Hololens wearer could watch a holographic large screen TV on a real living room wall, play with digital Legos on a kitchen table, or even walk across the surface of the moon and view details on the ground in high resolution.
The potential of Hololens lies in its integration into the complete Windows 10 ecosystem. Microsoft is focused on having one Windows 10 operating system across PCs, tablets, and mobile phones, and Hololens is meant to serve as a complete communications, productivity, and entertainment platform. This would allow apps running on any other Windows 10 platform would run just as easily run on Hololens, eliminating the inertia present in creating a developer ecosystem. Microsoft sees the evolution of the tablet as a portable computing device in Hololens, and possibly as an eventual replacement for the monitor. This is an attempt to define a new product category and jump-start it with an existing ecosystem, as Apple did with the iPad. Success will depend on how well the Windows 10 unified ecosystem works in reality.
We expect several shortcomings from the initial Hololens product, similar to Google’s own experience with Glass, including battery life, overheating, and outdoor usage. While Microsoft does have hardware experience from its video game and mobile phone (formerly Nokia) divisions, it is unlikely that a launch with such new technology and learning curve will soon reach a mass-market audience in both reception and pricing.
It is possible that in a future in which Hololens becomes successful, users will no longer rely on a Google search box to look for information, instead using the Cortana personal assistant interface in Windows 10 by pointing at an object in view or issuing a vocal command. Regardless of whether Hololens can be an immediate mass-market success, as an early mover, this is a significant attempt by Microsoft to own the category and define standards for how people engage and interact in AR, similar to how many standard mobile touch gestures were defined by Apple.