Updated: 23rd April 2018

Microsoft’s futuristic HoloLens headset is one of the wildest bits of tech I’ve ever experienced

rob price business insider hololens microsoft headset

Rob Price/Business Insider

Yeah, it’s not just inconspicuous.

We’re not in the future however you can see it from here.

I had the chance to try out HoloLens — Microsoft’s futuristic head-mounted computer.

It’s quite crazy. Not wild in the woah-this-game’s-images-are-so-realistic-crazy perception, or a this-computer-is-lightning-quick-and-reactive-wild.

I mean jesus-christ-there’s-robotic-scorpions-coming-out-of-the-goddamn-walls-wild.

Yes, there are defects and clear limits, and some caveats that are dull.

But to put it clearly, it was unlike anything I experienced firsthand before.

It’s the real world — improved.

HoloLens maps out the (actual) world and adds virtual, interactive things into it. In the demos I attempted, that meant the magnified, editable innards of a high-end watch, sitting on a desk in a mock-showroom display. A Skype chat program hanging in the manner of an image beside me as I attempted to repair a (real world) lightbulb, with a Microsoft worker drawing instructions directly onto my eyesight. A two-foot pulsating cross section of a human heart floating in the center of the room. Robots breaking out of firing rockets and walls that duck about like a loon and I needed to jump to avoid.

In short: It’s augmented reality (AR) — only don’t call it that. Microsoft favors the term mixed reality.

“Mixed reality for us actually connotes that actual form of volumetric [contour] … it’s about the very fact it’s a 3D thing that’s in your surroundings, and it’s combining your real world with that thing,” described Leila Martine, Microsoft UK’s manager of new apparatus. As a different impression it leaves you with than simply augmenting the real world … augmenting isn’t always that those two things are coexisting in reality.” It connotates

No matter your favorite nomenclature, it’s a new encounter that is severely. And while virtual reality (VR) may possess the possibility to be more promptly breathless and interesting, the capacity for AR to slot itself into your ordinary life is close-never-ending.

Microsoft HoloLens PivotPoint RGB mockup augmented reality

A Microsoft mockup picture of HoloLens being used by a designer in the office.

… But it’s not a consumer product.

If this has you hanging virtual images in your house and excited about augmented reality gaming — sorry.

As Martine emphasised to me again and again (and again and again) the present HoloLens isn’t a consumer device. It’s directed directly at creative sectors and companies, with Microsoft touting architectural studio Trimble, Volvo, Case Western medical school, and NASA as essential organisations now utilising the technology.

Google Glass

This really is nothing like Google Glass, the derided head-mounted computer from Google.

Believe drastically improved auto showroom demos, and medical tuition involving 3D lifesize manipulable organs, rather than home entertainment.

(Moreover, it costs an eye-watering £2,719/$3,000, going up to £4,529/$5,000 for the “Commercial” version. It’s accessible in the United States now, and begins sending in britain at the end of November.)

And it’s its limits. Most clearly, the field of view is rather narrow, so the augmentations (sorry, holograms) don’t fill all your eyesight. There may be one on the desk facing you, but you’re not going to see it if you’re not looking down. That alone would seriously restrict any possible consumer-level uses — although not the more business-centered uses that Microsoft is aiming at.

Augmented reality may one day be as common as “eating three meals a day”

But I found myself looking past any hardware shortcomings, because of what HoloLens signifies. Augmented reality, like its sister technology virtual reality, is buzzy. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook talks tremendously bullishly about the technology, asserting that in the future it’ll be as significant and commonplace as “eating three meals a day” — all but proof that Apple is quietly working on developing the technology.

microsoft hololens augmented mixed reality international space station scott kelly

Astronaut Scott Kelly headset on the International Space Station.

But there’s nothing out there, like Microsoft’s HoloLens, in commercial creation. Close multi-billion-dollar startup Magic Leap has yet to establish a product. The closest Google has is Tango, an AR platform that runs off smartphones rather than a headset. Apple is making favorable sounds.

No, the HoloLens isn’t going to alter the lives of everyday individuals. And although Microsoft is ahead of the pack there’s no promise that it’ll be the firm that first brings augmented reality merchandises to the masses. (Microsoft declined to discuss its future strategies or sales amounts.)

But consumer-grade AR is coming — and having attempted HoloLens, I anticipate it to be one of the most extreme shifts in how we interact with computers in my life.