HoloLens: The Future or Just a Sideshow?

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This week Microsoft introduced the world to one of its upcoming products, HoloLens. There’s been quite a bit of buzz on GeekDad about just how revolutionary this technology will be. Fellow GeekDad James Floyd Kelly and I have had a bit of a geek fight about it all, and we thought it might be interesting to have all of you chime in. If you’re not familiar with HoloLens, you can watch the Microsoft ad for the product below.

Erik Wecks: So Jim, I’m going to start bold. I think that HoloLens will be the next iPhone. In fact, I don’t think that it was an accident that Google Glass was put into semi-retirement recently. I think that Google got wind of this and said, “Oh [expletive deleted]!” HoloLens puts GG to shame.

When I first saw the ad above, I actually got a lump in my throat. Seriously, I was tearing up, and I’m not alone. I’ve shown it to two of my kids, and both of them had the same kind of reaction. You have to admit it’s awe inspiring. In one video I saw, one of the developers called HoloLens, “The next PC,” and I have to say I believe it. I truly believe it.

I’ve thought for a long time that the internet well evolve into something three dimensional and immersive. William Gibson wrote about that a long, long time ago and the way the internet has evolved, it seems the natural next step. Remember the buzz about second life? To me HoloLens has the potential to bring about what second life couldn’t. It gives the internet three dimensions. It gives web content a location! I’m not sure I can express how important I think that will be. Am I crazy?

James Floyd Kelly: I don’t think you’re crazy, but I do think you may be waiting a while for this reality to actually arrive. I’m all for this level of technology, and I have high hopes for Microsoft to pull this one off. But I have some concerns. I’ll start with something you wrote. You think this has to potential to be the next iPhone. Maybe, maybe not. Two things to think about:

1. With the iPhone (and the iPad), Apple put something out on the market that was immediately available everywhere and was somewhat affordable to a wide range of varying incomes. Microsoft hasn’t announced prices, but it’s hard to imagine something so cutting edge as what’s described in the article and video coming into the market for under $1500. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was $2000 or more initially. That’s a big jump from the $400-600 for the initial iPhone and the $500-700 initial pricing of the iPad. My first concern is that the entry-level price will be too high for the widespread adoption that I believe was critical to the iPhone and iPad successes.

2. Apple had the App Store in place so buyers could fill their phones (and tablets) with very reasonable software prices (typically $0.99). Microsoft has indicated that the first roll-out of the devices will ideally be to businesses and organizations that can (a) afford the device) and (b) who will develop the software/apps for the device. I think that could backfire—instead of the general public getting their hands on it (assuming an affordable price is set), it’s going to be a specialty device with limited availability and limited software (initially). Again, this is the opposite of what we saw with the iPhone/iPad releases where anyone who could afford one could grab it and go. And we all watched as the App market grew and grew as home-brew and professional app development struck like lightning.

I think Microsoft should come out swinging here. They have plenty to gain… and a lot to lose. Remember, Apple has billions of dollars that it can apply to development of any product it sees as having potential. Microsoft may be the first to release this kind of tech, but to grab hold and own it? They’ll need to have sufficient buy-in and plenty of options (apps) for consumers.

Erik Wecks: Perhaps you are right that I will have to wait, so in that sense the iPhone analogy might be a poor one. The better one might be the PC. I remember hearing a story about CPAs discovering the PC for the first time and realizing it could do in the click of a button what it took several assistants to do on a daily basis. The technology was revolutionary to every industry, and yet, it did take time to implement. It wasn’t instant. I can concede that this might take time… but really it’s so cool! Did you see the way that the father was helping his kid put together the sink? That… that right there. That’s everything! That’s a revolution! That is the internet of things.

As far as pricing, I will say two things. First, will this have to be more powerful than an iPhone 6? That’s a computer in a pretty small package. While the technology may be bleeding edge I’m not convinced the price needs to be huge. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me to see pricing near the $2,000 mark when the device comes out, but if the software is available—and that is a huge if—I don’t see that as a barrier at all. We’ve gotten used to cheap tech, but at one time it wasn’t that way. I remember my dad and I looking at $3,500 Pentium 4 PCs only a decade ago. I think you’re underestimating what people would pay for the potential. That is if Microsoft puts it out with software more useful than Minecraft on my coffee table or the weather forecast on my counter. Also remember, this has the potential to totally replace your phone and many of the functions of your PC and tablet. That’s worth paying for!

I share your concerns with Microsoft screwing up the roll out, and I hope they focus quickly on the consumer. Yesterday they announced that while upgrades to Windows Ten would be free for those with Windows 7 and 8.1, you will have to pay a subscription to keep the OS up to date…sigh. Really, Microsoft? Your plan is to become Adobe? Nobody likes Adobe’s business model. I worry that they will take the same proprietary attitude to this tech. That could really stifle its potential.

But, Jim… did you see that?! Like, the designer was modeling the bike in 3D and the scientists were working “on” Mars. Do you really think that anything could hold back a technology that useful, that revolutionary? I don’t. Right now I bet Google and Apple executives are all calling up their R&D departments and screaming at someone, “Make me one of these!” Zuckerberg is already planning for how Facebook will own it. Wall Street will invest. It’s coming!

If the tech does what the ad promised, it will happen. I have no doubt.

Just one more thought. Think about standing in the grocery store looking at a product and being able to call up your wife who sees what you are seeing on her tablet and then say, “Which one of these did you want for dinner?” and she says, “The one on the left.” That’s a big deal. Or imagine Google maps as a HUD while driving. You just follow the green line on the streets to your destination! How could any one company hold back that revolution? I doubt they could or will. It’s a new day, my friend. It’s a new day.

Jim Kelly: Let me state right off the bat that I’m not looking to be wearing this out in public. I see great potential in this for around the house, in the office, etc… but I draw the line at heading to the grocery store with this thing on. I still laugh at people wearing Bluetooth headsets in their ears while out in public.

I’m all for what this technology can bring. There’s a great Neal Stephenson book called Diamond Age where a revolutionary technology allows a young girl to learn well beyond her means or her age. The tech is interactive and teaches at the child’s own speed. I see great opportunities for this kind of technology where tutors or digital avatars could teach math and spelling through interactive games. I would love to have a 3D trainer teach my kids to solder (properly!) or show them how to change a tire or the oil in a car. Yes, the possibilities are endless. But my question is this — can Microsoft handle this challenge? Another question — is Microsoft the right company to take on this challenge?

Whether the item is $500 or $2,000, I agree with you that there will be buyers lined up. My problem is that we’re beyond the days of the $2,000 or $3,000 computer. Moore’s Law and higher volume/greater quality manufacturing methods have pushed technologies so they should be cheaper, not more expensive. This item will probably have some expensive hardware inside, sure… but I really don’t want to return to a time where we’re paying $2,000 or $3,000 for a revolutionary technology. I saw a video today of a 19 year old who built a prosthetic hand for under $500 and it was compared to a $60k version with fewer features. Sure, it was cobbled together and might have slightly less high quality parts inside, but that’s my point… paying through the nose for the latest greatest technology doesn’t seem to fly in this day of Open Source software and the Maker Movement. Trust me… someone will crack this technology and that’s when we’re likely to see the real benefits — when the price is low enough that everyone can own it.

Still. Absolutely 100% impressed with the hardware and the ideas of how it can be used. But again… can we trust Microsoft to roll this out properly? Will Apple be beating down the door with its own version soon after its release (or before)? Such huge potential and also a lot of room for mistakes — think Google Glass.

Erik Wecks: All right, one last reply and then I will let you close.

Moore’s Law doesn’t quite apply here to me. This isn’t simply a revolution in computing power. It’s a true revolution in the way we use technology. I think this is as fundamental of a change in technology as the internet itself. I know it sounds crazy but once the internet breaks the fourth wall, everything changes. In the same way a PC isn’t the internet but was a necessary predecessor to the internet, the current internet will be the predecessor to whatever this technology produces. (Might I suggest Intraspace?) It’s no longer the internet, it’s something different. It’s the next great frontier in tech. It’s been on the technological horizon since Gibson suggested the idea it back in the eighties. This is the first piece of hardware to successfully challenge the fourth wall in a compelling way. Buyers will pay more for that than they will for the next iteration of the iPhone.

And, yes. I cannot wait until someone finds a way to do this on the cheap. I also hope that Apple comes out with a better version, tomorrow. I hope they’re shaking in their boots. When multiple companies come out with these type of devices things will really roll. With this much potential, I can’t see that taking too long once people get their hands on this.

I have no doubt you and everyone else will look like a complete dork in public… and love it. You will. The first models of HoloLens will be big, clunky, awkward and soon forgotten when someone lets a famous designer create a pair. I think you’re too focused on the device itself and not the change in the way we will use technology which will come from the device. That will overcome the huge dork factor. Remember no one thought Bluetooth was dorky before the iPhone. Bluetooth has become dorky because its value proposition really wasn’t that great—pressing a button on your ear vs. pulling your phone out of your pocket. What wrecked Bluetooth was simple pair of white earbuds that allowed you to do the same thing.

Finally, to emphasize just how revolutionary this could be, I want to list the number of pieces of current technology that could be contained in or implemented by this one piece of tech: your smart phone, your PC, your television, your gaming system, your GPS, the whole of the internet, a school of all levels from elementary school to graduate level research, your smart watch and many many more which our readers can list in the comments below. That’s power. That’s a revolution. This will be BIG.

Jim Kelly: I think we’re both in agreement that this technology has world-changing implications. I like to imagine my kids asking me questions about Jupiter and then I download an app that lets them take a starship tour of the planet, dipping into its atmosphere and experiencing turbulence and maybe an engine failure. They must assist someone to fix the ship and escape the planet. I also like the thought of putting it on while I work in my workshop and both recording my work as well as having a master craftsman appearing and showing me how to cut a perfect dado in a block of wood.

I agree that I’m using Moore’s Law improperly, but I still believe that technology should be getting cheaper, easier to use, and more powerful all at once. I’m not against paying a premium (as I did for the iPad) for a technology that will benefit me personally, but I also desire any new technology to be as universally available as possible. The Wired article suggests that Microsoft intends to roll it out slowly, and that’s their call. I only worry that a slow roll out will result in not much excitement, a slower fan base being built, and less innovation on the software side (due to lower number of users).

I come back to the idea that Microsoft has something that apparently works and works well… and is extremely ground-breaking. In this global economy with Twitter, 24 hour newsfeeds, and video breakdowns of new technology less than 24 hours after a tech is released… this is not a world where the rewards go to the turtle. Apple or Google or Samsung will be breathing down Microsoft’s neck to release their own versions (patents notwithstanding, probably). This is a chance for Microsoft to define a new paradigm just as they did with Windows. I agree with you that 3D, immersive technology is the future (and I think Oculus may have missed the boat here. But who is going to set the standard? And believe me… anyone who remembers the standards-wars of the ’80s computer scene will likely agree that a winning standard doesn’t necessarily have to come first (beta versus VHS, anyone?).

It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out. Knowing how difficult it is to keep secrets in the tech world, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple and Samsung both have some sort of version of this in development. And if they don’t… I’ll bet they do now. I wish Microsoft the best of luck with this… I have no ill will towards any of the technology giants. I just want something that works well, is reasonably priced, and isn’t out of reach of the majority of the population. I guess we’ll have to wait and see about this device’s price and how fast (or slow) Microsoft releases it to the general public. I have a feeling we’ll both look back at this discussion and have a good laugh at how clueless we were on many different points. That’s fine with me… I like surprises.


So what do you think? Is HoloLens the future or just a side show? Tell us in the comments.

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