Strap on a HoloLens and enter the AR conference room

When Alex from Microsoft Kipman logged in to our meeting last week, he introduced himself as a cartoon avatar standing somewhere between my cluttered desk and a kitchen full of outdated appliances. This holographic version of Kipman somehow didn’t stun me – I may have had too many augmented reality demos at this point – but his showing up in my apartment, while he was physically in Redmond, Washington, what Microsoft thinks about the future of AR. will be.

But first I had to ask: is Microsoft working on AR glasses suitable for consumers? Because the thing we both wore on our heads, HoloLens 2, well… that’s pretty awesome. It’s technically sophisticated, a full-fledged computer for the face, with 2K displays in each eye and built-in spatial audio and 6DoF position tracking. But the helmet is big, expensive, and brutally futuristic. The first version of HoloLens was designed for developers, who were supposed to create attractive apps for it. The second version is sold to corporate clients – entities ranging from Airbus to automakers to the US military (which has been a source of controversy).

If mixed reality headsets are ever to be used more widely, several things are going to have to happen: They’ll need apps that kill, and the hardware has to be something people actually want to wear on their faces. Hence my question to Kipman, the man who invented HoloLens, about when these things would evolve beyond the corporate niche.

Kipman didn’t really respond. He was more inclined to talk about Microsoft Mesh, the new mixed reality platform Microsoft announced today at its annual Ignite conference, which is held virtually. Mesh is powered by Azure, the company’s cloud computing service. The software will allow people located in different physical locations to meet in mixed reality to meet or spend time. That’s the big news today, and Kipman wants to stay on topic.

“We’re not going to talk about hardware today, and there is nothing to disclose,” Kipman replied. As he spoke, an Alex Kipman mini holographic was stuck upside down in a holographic convertible, the result of our resizing and transforming a series of virtual objects in this bizarre space. “But we’re leading mixed reality today, and the goal is to continue leading it.”

“But it would be stupid at this point if you were not experimenting with augmented reality glasses, ”I retorted.

“I think you would be right,” he replied.

Later, I would talk to John Hanke, the CEO of Niantic, creator of the famous augmented reality game. Pokémon Go, about the company’s new partnership with Microsoft and how it plans to use this new Mesh software.

“[HoloLens] is not a device that you will wear on the street. We are using HoloLens 2 as an experimental platform to start working with this material before future consumer-friendly AR glasses are ready, ”Hanke said. Understood: AR glasses are the future. And this new mixed reality software from Microsoft will sort of get us there.

There can be hasn’t been any better or worse for AR glasses than the experience I had trying to take meetings in large headsets in the days leading up to Microsoft Ignite. In order to give journalists (myself included) early access to some of the features Microsoft was planning to showcase on Tuesday morning, Redmond shipped a large hard-shell flight case filled with computer hardware. This included a HoloLens 2 ($ 3,500), which is “unattached” and does not require a separate PC; an HP Reverb G2 VR headset ($ 600); and a 15-inch HP Omen laptop ($ 1,200 and up), which plugs in the Reverb headphones. The equipment overwhelmed my desk and I had to move some into the kitchen.


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