At $3,500 apiece, Microsoft's HoloLens 2 may not be the transformational consumer device we were all hoping to buy. But the company addressed many of the shortcomings of the original HoloLens at the Mobile World Congress launch of the second generation, holding out hope that we may one day see a more consumer-oriented product. As Microsoft has signaled for several years now, HoloLens 2 is designed to work with its Azure cloud and business customers, complete with an intriguing new Remote Rendering technology that implies Microsoft's using the power of its Azure cloud to boost the HoloLens headset's image processing capabilities. Epic chief Tim Sweeney appeared on stage to endorse HoloLens and bring the Unreal engine to HoloLens beginning in May. He did not announce a HoloLens-specific game, though.
Unearthing Microsoft's HoloLens feels a little like walking the decks of the Titanic. Three years ago, Microsoft's augmented-reality headset ignited the imaginations of consumers and developers alike with its promise of lifelike animated sprites that could perch on real-world objects. It's almost criminal that Microsoft's original HoloLens demos never saw the light of day. Bending down to peer "inside" a coffee table into the Minecraft underworld was an utterly transformative experience. But at least Microsoft's vision of using the HoloLens as a business tool apparently is alive and well.
Microsoft is expanding availability of its existing HoloLens augmented-reality goggles to six more countries next month. Shipments will begin in November. Microsoft first showed off publicly its HoloLens device in January 2015, and shipped HoloLens developer kits in the U.S. and Canada in late March 2016. At first, device availability was limited to developers pre-selected by Microsoft. In August, Microsoft made HoloLens available to anyone in the U.S. and Canada who was willing to pay the 3,000 for the device.
Microsoft is rolling out its mixed-reality headset HoloLens to almost 30 additional countries in Europe. HoloLens will now be available in 39 countries worldwide, including Belgium, Denmark, Italy and Spain, as Microsoft tries to sell businesses on the idea that the headset can support new and better ways of working. Microsoft believes one of the major selling points of the HoloLens for businesses is its ability to let experts remotely aid technicians working in the field more easily, using HoloLens' ability to superimpose digital information in the wearer's field of view. Elevator company ThyssenKrupp has been trialling the use of HoloLens to help engineers carry out maintenance, with HoloLens allowing a remote engineer to both see what the on-site technician can see, via a camera on the HoloLens, and to digitally annotate objects in the technician's vision, for example to highlight components that need fixing. In a trial, an engineer using HoloLens to communicate with a colleague for the first time was able to solve a fault that normally would take two hours -- or even require having another engineer on-site -- in 20 minutes.
Microsoft's HoloLens just got a whole lot more useful. At Build 2018, Microsoft announced a new Remote Assist app that lets users connect with remote experts in mixed reality. In other words, HoloLens is now more collaborative. SEE ALSO: Microsoft plans for a future that isn't anchored by Windows With Remote Assist, Microsoft wants workers to be able to solve problems quicker together, even if they're not physically in the same location. For example, HoloLens users will be able to share photos, video chat, and even annotate what they're seeing with remote experts, and vice versa.