HoloLens 2 afterthoughts

HoloLens 2 Announcement at MWC 2019 – Some Afterthoughts

After watching the full HoloLens 2 announcement at MWC 2019 on YouTube today, it’s easy to see that Microsoft tries to capitalize on the enterprise market. In fact, right now, this is where the money is, and of course, it will continue being so in the future. We’ve seen Magic Leap trying to satisfy consumers, mainly developers who aiming for consumer-market development by partnering with app development companies to deliver unique and cool mixed reality games and AR experiences.

The problem is that not many people can afford to buy the Magic Leap One. which costs USD$2300.  The HoloLens 2 costs USD$3500 which is even more expensive than the first version, which costs USD$3000.

This isn’t a big price for companies considering the benefit they get in return. Many of the apps were designed to increase productivity, allow faster and more effective training of new employees and reduce risks and mistakes at work. Team collaboration is easier than ever and with all the other benefits that this technology brings with it, it’s easy to see what Microsoft, at this point in time, decided to focus on the enterprise. It’s already own this market, securing a huge $480 million contract from the US Army and being an owner of one of the two largest cloud-based ecosystems, Microsoft Azure.

Aside from the hardware itself, Microsoft is making sure that it has a large and on-growing selection of complimentary cloud-based solutions for these mixed reality experience, running on HoloLens 2 or other platforms,  to nourish and provide more creative possibilities for developers to run their apps on.

This includes databases (for storing data), machine learning  (Azure Batch AI for training deep learning AI models at scale), speech recognition/language understanding, speech translation, text analytics, computer vision (Azure Kinect DK or building computer vision and speech models that take advantage of advanced AI sensors), analytics solutions and more. AR cloud will also be offered sooner or later and all that will be offered in a single fully-integrated eco-system.

Microsoft definitely has a huge advantage in the mixed reality enterprise/business segment and it definitely going to take advantage of it, and it does.

This also means that it can offer solutions for companies right now, not waiting until the technology is matured and cheaper to be affordable and accessible for consumers. Hopefully, when the time comes, Microsoft won’t repeat the same mistake it did in the mobile phone market and will have a product ready to compete with Apple, Magic Leap, nReal and other companies (I am watching you Amazon) in the consumer market.

Apple will most definitely aim towards the consumer market but as we know Apple, their products, even when they are aimed towards the consumer market, have an appeal to the business/enterprise market as well.  However, unlike Microsoft and Amazon that offer their own huge cloud-based solutions, Apple prefers to keep things close to its chest and have tight control over its accessibility.

Microsoft, on the other hand, introduces the principles of open stores, open browsers, and open developer platforms to make it easier for developers and companies to create their own ecosystem assets for on top of Microsoft’s mixed reality ecosystem. This openness is what needed to make this ecosystem thrive fast with fewer obstacles and at the end, allow Microsoft’s Mixed Reality ecosystem to thrive naturally in this spatial computing market space.

The goal is to offer best-in-class hardware with an advanced ecosystem that can support current market needs and allow innovation to thrive freely within it. This can give Microsoft a great advantage compared to its competition in the future to come.

For developers aiming towards the consumer market, well, as far as Microsoft’s offering, they’ll need to wait. Even with Magic Leap One putting an effort in showing that they do care about the consumer market, the price of the Magic Leap One headset is the main obstacle that this is not happening. Ask yourself a simple question:  if the Magic Leap has cost $800, would you consider buying it? – many probably answer that they would. I know I would, and probably more of the early adopters and some of the early majority would have done so as well.

Of course, there is always the missing variable and this is A (for Apple). When Apple releases a device, it shook the market by storm. We’ve seen this all throughout the mobile industry and although there are great innovations out there, when Apple releases a product, even if it’s less advanced than what’s out there, many consumers and developers adapt their product. Apple has a huge market and very strong brand awareness—no other company was able to take it away from Apple, nor compete with it at the same level.

So even if Apple releases a product that is subpar with what the competition in terms of performance and features, but has great product design and can answer the current consumer and business market needs, it will (most probably) thrive.

The question is how will Apple enter this market and what type of AR glasses will those be and what price they will be sold at. One thing I am quite certain, although I might be wrong here, is that whatever AR glasses product that Apple is going to release, it will make it more affordable compared to Magic Leap One and HoloLens 2 offering. The goal is to release the product to have string mass market appeal, so developers are encouraged to develop for it and not discouraged and not be able to monetize on their hard work with a small market share. Apple, of course, earns from any app that is sold out there, so this type of business model is very much worth it.

It’s too early to tell, but no doubt that this is going to be very interesting to watch these developments in the field of mixed reality and spatial computing

Even if we might think we’ve seen it all, there are innovations being introduced to the market every single day, those related to optics, machine learning, voice recognition, virtualization, connectivity and more. Whether Microsoft will fit into all this when the time comes to compete against the big cooperations and industry leaders—time will tell.

Right now, as a person who is craving for a mixed reality consumer product, all I can do is just wait. The market itself is shaping out very fast and as far as I can see it, we are already in the big bang, but eventually, among all those fast technology progressions, a few giant stars will be formed and have the most impact on this market. Microsoft certainly shows a strong presence with their HoloLens 2 mixed reality headset, its ecosystem and its open approach to third-parties. Things that Microsoft was criticized in the past but made changes to smartly adapt to the market changes and demands.

Overall, a great showing for Microsoft at MWC 2019 and let’s hope that things will look brighter for them and Microsoft will be able to stay attached to the consumer market needs as well and not repeat mistakes from the past.