I had the opportunity two weeks ago to try on and review the Microsoft Hololens at Microsoft’s flagship store on 5th Avenue in NYC. It was a 3 hour train ride on Amtrak one-way, but I was jacked. After all, I have been up to this point one of Microsoft’s biggest cheerleaders for their push into augmented reality, even figuring out in my new company Hapnapp how we can tie the AR world into our app using the Unity 3D system and our RESTful API.
First things first, the meeting was an hourlong session where I and two other people got a chance to try on the Hololens in 3 separate environments one on one with a session guide. In the first breakout, I got a chance to play “Project X-Ray”. If you’re not familiar with the game, check out the demo here.
The second session was reviewing how I think a future product demo could work. Imagine having to give a pitch of your new product to a group of executives. They’re all sitting around the big table, each with a Hololens on their head. Your product displays in front of them in 3D space.
The last session was creating and modifying the 3D models in space. I got a chance to modify a few colors and work on a project, and was told it would work like this with 3D printing.
Those were the sessions, and the staff was courteous, and excited. The thing was, they knew nothing about the products and were pretty useless otherwise. This was the main problem I had with the entire demo experience. Sure, I got a chance to wear a Hololens, but I was expecting to get information about how I could use this thing, like others had in their programming sessions where they took MS pre-supplied code and uploaded it to their devices. At least something to give you an idea of the workflow and some intro level tech talk.
Nothing like that. I asked all of the guides and people involved simple questions to test their knowledge from Microsoft’s own on-stage demos, like using Visual Studio orUnity 3D. They knew nothing. It’s amazing they even knew how to turn it on to be honest.
Then there was the Hololens itself. The limited field of view was of course a problem as many people mentioned. Even with the excellent 3D surround sound, I still found myself missing attacking robots in the Project X-ray game because I couldn’t locate them with such a small viewport.
The device picked up the hand gesture fairly well after some time, but it wasn’t an intuitive interface like your finger(s) on an iPhone UI. People are going to have trouble with this if the gesture recognition isn’t improved somewhat. Think about how easy it was (if you’re old enough) to first learn to double click a mouse. A little challenging, but not too much. Swiping and gesturing on a screen. That was easy enough to learn. Touch gesture on Hololens? You have to hold your fingers just right, and judging the amount of people who can’t do Spock’s Vulcan “Live long and prosper” gesture, there could be a problem brewing here for whole hand gestures.
The last thing that turned me off was the fact during the second session, when I was watching the demo, the device kept slipping off my head. It’s like this Hololens didn’t fit like the ones from the other two sessions, and even if I tightened it to the max, cutting off the circulation to the hat rack on my shoulders, I still had to adjust it constantly. It ruined the experience having to peer out as if wearing bifocals constantly.
Do I think Microsoft is on to something here? Yes, I do. The holograms looked pretty good, like they belonged in space. The sound was pretty amazing for this little device. The 3D motion tracking and positioning was pretty good as well. They’re making good progress.
Is it worth the $3000 Microsoft is charging here at the end of the first quarter for? Well, think of being like basic email signup for anything XBox/Microsoft related. It looks easy, and at first glance it is easy, but it is the stuff tech nightmares are made of when the details go wrong. Based on my life-long experiences with Microsoft, I don’t like the chances.
Maybe next round.