Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality vs. Holograms

hololensOn January 21, 2015 Microsoft Announce that the science fiction of holograms has become science fact.  They announced a new product, based on Windows 10, called HoloLens.  The first self contained, wearable computer that can create holograms.  This announcement has generated a buzz. If you haven’t seen the video Microsoft put out, take a minute, follow the link above and watch it, I’ll wait….. You’re back.  Were you blown away? I was. My mind was immediately racing to what problems I could solve if this truly pans out. More on that in a bit.

Virtual Reality

“Virtual Reality (VR), sometimes referred to as immersive multimedia, is a computer-simulated environment that can simulate physical presence in places in the real world or imagined worlds. Virtual reality can recreate sensory experiences, which include virtual taste, sight, smell, sound, touch, etc.” Wikipedia

When Microsoft announced HoloLens some people mistakenly called it virtual reality. Although Microsoft showed immersive experiences, the fact that you can still see the world around you makes precludes it from being virtual reality.  A prime example of virtual reality is the Oculus Rift

Augmented Reality

“Augmented reality (AR) is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.” Wikipedia

HaloLense is really just augmented reality plus much more. I will go into what I mean in a bit. Augmented reality is not really new.  There are phone app, Yelp for instance, uses the phone’s camera to display the world around it while superimposing restaurant information based on the direction the phone is pointed.  Or how about the translator app for Windows phone that superimposes translated text over written text. You can go from one language to another.

Another recent example is Google Glass (though they have suspended the program).  Google Glass is a pair of glasses that puts a heads up display on the lens, providing information to the wearer. That information is in a static location, no matter which direction the users is facing.

Hologram

“Holography is a technique which enables three-dimensional images (holograms) to be made. It involves the use of a laser, interference, diffraction, light intensity recording and suitable illumination of the recording. The image changes as the position and orientation of the viewing system changes in exactly the same way as if the object were still present, thus making the image appear three-dimensional.” Wikipedia

The HoloLens can created realistic three-dimensional images and place those images in the world around you.  So I would say that HoloLens is a combination of all three. It may not be truly creating holograms they seem to be real enough to the wearer.

HoloLens

To be clear, I have not had an opportunity to try HoloLense.  I was not one of the chosen few who got to attend the event.  The reaction from those who did get to try the canned demo’s is overwhelmingly positive.  Until I get to try it I can only rely on what they have said. I am excited at the possibilities that this opens up.  I do have some questions as well. 

First is Microsoft targeting consumer or enterprise or both.  The thing that will really determine that is price. When the Xbox one first came out it was $499 and adoption was slow. When they dropped the price $350 this past holiday season, they sold like hotcakes. Granted there is no direct competitor to HoloLens (as of yet), if they price it too high it may be just out of reach for the average consumer.

The next question I have is with the form factor itself.  If this is intended to be worn for long periods of time it needs to be comfortable.  Google Glass was a pair of glass so they were easy to wear for long periods of time.  HoloLens will have way more functionality than Google Glass.  All that functionality requires some pretty heavy computing power. Microsoft packed all that computing power into a self-contained device, or donut as my coworker likes to call it. Is v1 going to be too big or too bulky?  With all that computing power what is the battery life going to be?

Finally can Microsoft truly deliver on the experience they showed in the videos?  That will be the true test to the success of the device. Judging from the reaction of the reporters at the event, they are pretty close. Microsoft has gotten a lot of people excited with this announcement, a lot of people that have all but written them off. If they mess this up they may drive those people away for good.

The Possibilities

A couple of years ago Microsoft released a vision video that captured my imagination.  They showed off a lot of “imagined” technologies. They showed how technology will blend into the environment around you and become ingrained in everyday life.  Most of the stuff they showed was not real but with HoloLens and Surface Hub, some of those use cases are now possible.

I am excited at the possibilities this opens up. Microsoft has said that HoloLens apps are just Universal Apps with some added APIs. Hopefully they will release an SDK during their Build conference.  If you weren’t able to get in or can’t attend they usually make the sessions available online soon after. 

The video that Microsoft released shows all kinds of use cases for HoloLens. I have a few of my own and I am excited to see what others come up with.

Summary

In recent years these press events had very few surprises. Look for instance at the last Apple launch there were nothing announced that had not previously leaked. Microsoft did a great job keeping this secret.  There were rumors of an Xbox gaming helmet but this is so much more.  You can see pieces of this technologies in various Microsoft research projects. It is great to see them finally capitalizing on some of that research.  Only time will tell if HoloLens will be a success but you have to admit living in a time where holograms can be real is pretty cool.

This entry was posted in Computer Science, Contextual Computing, UX, Windows 10 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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