Microsoft Establishes Holographic Computing Leadership With Launch Of HoloLens

  • Microsoft launched the $3,000 HoloLens Development Edition, which will ship to selected applicants beginning March 30th.
  • The HoloLens, chosen by Time as number one tech gadget of 2015, overlays high-definition synthetic holograms to the real world.
  • Microsoft released documentation, development tools and sample apps for developers to create compelling consumer applications.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) announced that aspiring HoloLens developers can apply to receive invitations to purchase the Microsoft HoloLens Development Edition - which will begin shipping on March 30th.

"Today represents a monumental step forward," said Alex Kipman, Microsoft's "chief evangelist" for the HoloLens. "This is the first step in our journey to consumers. I’m really excited to start this journey with you. This platform was created for you, the dreamers, the creators, the Windows developers."

One year ago Kipman unveiled the HoloLens - Microsoft's new Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) headset  - to the press. The HoloLens displays 3D holograms directly in front of the user in a seamless blend of fantasy and reality.

"The future of technology will not be confined to just two dimensions - our future interaction with technology will more closely mirror our real world," added Kipman. "Technology coexisting in our real, three-dimensional world, beyond screens and pixels. We believe that the future is holographic, and as a result, we will continue to empower the developers who will help bring that future to life."

The HoloLens, a stand-alone computer embedded in an AR headset, brings high-definition holograms to life, seamlessly integrating with the physical world in "mixed reality." The device, which resembles a pair of ski goggles, was chosen by Time Magazine as number one tech gadget of 2015. "Wear the HoloLens, and holographic images will suddenly appear around your physical environment," notes Time's review. "The headset is potentially useful for professionals from surgeons to space astronauts." In fact, NASA scientists are using HoloLens applications to collaboratively explore Mars with data from the Curiosity rover.

A recent HoloLens demo released in November in partnership with car maker Volvo, which hints at future VR showrooms, brings high-resolution 3D models of Volvo’s new S90 premium sedan to life as holograms floating in mid air. In December, Microsoft partnered with Autodesk to create virtual product development solutions for engineering and industrial design. In October Microsoft acquired Havok from Intel. Havok, the leading physics engine for VR game development, could power future ultra-realistic HoloLens games.

The Wall Street Journal notes that, before making the HoloLens available to all consumers, Microsoft needs developers to create compelling consumer applications. To support developers, Microsoft released documentation, tutorials, and sample "holographic" apps - including an enhanced version of Skype for HoloLens users, three mixed-reality games dubbed Fragments, Young Conker, and RoboRaid, an application called HoloTour that allows people to transport to a different location and experience it like they are really there, and HoloStudio - an integrated HoloLens development tool with examples of how to optimally leverage the innovative HoloLens user interface features.

"Nothing is more exciting to me than seeing what developers dream up when the Microsoft HoloLens Development Edition starts shipping next month," said Microsoft corporate VP Kudo Tsunoda. "We set out on a mission to deliver the world’s first untethered holographic computer and it is amazing to finally be at this point in time where developers will be receiving the very first versions so they can start building their own holographic experiences."

Developers in the US and Canada can apply to become HoloLens developers. The accepted applicants will be invited to purchase the Development Edition, which will start shipping on March 30th, for $3,000. The price is much higher than for popular VR headsets like Samsung Electronics (OTC:SSNLF) Gear VR for consumers and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) owned Oculus Rift for developers, but the HoloLens has unique AR features not found in VR-oriented headsets, and it is a self-contained "face computer" that doesn't require a PC or high-end smartphone.

In fact, the HoloLens has its own 32-bit Intel CPU, a brand-new Microsoft Holographic Processing Unit (HPU 1.0), 2GB RAM, 64GB of onboard solid-state storage, and a battery that gets up to three hours of active usage time, notes a Wired review. The device, which weighs 1.3 pounds, has two high-definition light engines inside the headset to display computer-generated features overlaying the real world, volume controls, brightness controls, a microUSB port, built-in wireless connectivity, and plenty of on-board cameras and sensors.

Of course other top tech companies and startups will jump on holographic mixed-reality computing, but at this moment, the HoloLens is a unique device for an entirely new class of applications. Therefore, developers are likely to adopt the HoloLens and create impressive science-fiction-like consumer apps, which will boost Microsoft stock in the mid-term.

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