The first HoloLens headset ushered in the concept of mixed reality, a form of augmented reality that mixes the real world with virtual objects. It’s a pair of smart glasses rather than a full-blown headset, but it’s still a chunky device.
Based around the technology originating in the now-discontinued Kinect for Xbox device, HoloLens first went on sale in 2016 to developers for $3,000/£2,719, but there has never been an out-and-out consumer edition.
Consequently, HoloLens has stayed more of a commercial than a consumer device, but with others like Oculus and HTC Vive releasing more consumer-focused VR headsets, could the time be for HoloLens to also target a bigger audience?
Some others have also tried producing their own Windows Mixed Reality headsets, but haven’t had much commercial success. HoloLens itself only had sales in the “thousands, not hundreds of thousands” when it had been out for a few months.
It now looks like Microsoft is close to launching a second version of the headset that will be more natural-looking and will be based on improved hardware.
- Event being held at Mobile World Congress
It looks very much like Microsoft will be bringing HoloLens 2 to Mobile World Congress in February. This is pretty surprising – Microsoft used to have a reasonably big presence at the show, either in a hotel opposite the conference centre where we’ve been to several press conferences or a stand at the show.
Not only is Microsoft holding an event on the day before the show (when many of the key press events are happening), but it will be attended by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella no less.
We’ve seen other Microsoft top brass such as Steve Ballmer and Joe Belfiore on stage at Mobile World Congress before, but that was in the heyday of Windows Phone… if there ever was a hayday.
However, also on the list to attend is Alex Kipman, who has been instrumental to Hololens and Windows Mixed Reality and has to be involved in HoloLens 2. Kipman has also now tweeted a teaser for the event, a dead giveaway that HoloLens 2 will be announced at the show.
— Alex Kipman (@akipman) February 11, 2019
Also joining Nadella is Julia White, who has worked across Microsoft’s Office and Azure units – so yes, there is potential for the Mobile World Congress press event to be focused more around the cloud than around a new HoloLens – and we’ll surely get an update on the company’s work around Office and other apps for iOS and Android devices.
There may also be some chat about Windows on ARM – there are currently a handful of Qualcomm Snapdragon-based Windows PCs and we’re expecting more to launch.
One thing that seemingly won’t be talked about is a Surface Phone – Surface lead Panos Panay is not going to be there, at least officially.
- Surely a thinner and lighter design
- Still with transparent lenses for seeing the world around you
A new HoloLens is likely to be lighter and less chunky than its predecessor, but it will surely retain the clear glasses element as that’s fundamental to the way HoloLens works.
Apart from that, we don’t currently have any information on the look of the headset.
Here’s the older HoloLens up close:
Microsoft says that the Mobile World Congress event will “transform spatial understanding through advanced sensors and AI at the edge to make technology more personal and natural.” If we translate that into something resembling English, we’d expect a more refined approach to HoloLens that can be used by consumers on a more regular basis.
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 850?
- Custom AI chip on the cards?
Like its predecessor and Oculus Quest, HoloLens 2 will be an all-in-one unit and won’t need to be tethered to a PC. It will also include the latest version of the Kinect sensor announced last year at Microsoft’s Build conference for developers.
It’s now combined with Azure AI (Azure is Microsoft’s cloud computing platform) so that a lot of the legwork can now be performed in the cloud – meaning smaller and more power-efficient devices.
While the original was Intel-based, rumours continue to swirl that the new headset will be Qualcomm-based, possibly on Snapdragon 845 or 850.
That would make a lot of sense but would require some software development from the existing Intel-based Windows Mixed Reality platform (Snapdragon’s CPU cores are based on ARM designs, just like those in almost all smartphones).
There has also been speculation that the headset will incorporate a Microsoft-designed custom AI chip, but we’re not totally convinced on that front considering the Snapdragon platform has significant built-in AI smarts already.
We know that Microsoft is working towards a single operating system for all devices from phones to Xbox to servers – specialist functionality will be added with a modular approach.
This is known as Windows Core OS and HoloLens 2 could be the first step on that road. Whether that operating system could eventually be known as Windows 11 or similar is anyone’s guess.