Will the Microsoft HoloLens fail like Google Glass?

Associate Strategy Director
New York

Microsoft recently presented a vision of the future, where HoloLens is used to watch a sports game on TV. Microsoft VP Yusuf Mehdi describes: “Imagine the Big Game, extended beyond your existing screen, with displays, player stats and instant replays on your coffee table.” With the memory of the failed Google Glass fresh on our minds, will HoloLens be able surpass Glass and succeed in the AR market?

A major reason that the first mainstream AR wearable from Google failed was its versatility. Advertised as on-the-go computing, it had the challenge of processing large amount of information. On top of that, the potential use was seemingly limitless. The Glass essentially takes the mobile phone experience and displays it in our face. From a user’s POV, it is not novel enough to prompt a change in their media consumption routine. AR (augmented reality) wearers are very in touch with their surroundings, AR overlays digital media onto the real world through smart glasses. Therefore, the user’s physical location will directly impact their experience.

A successful AR experience could borrow elements from VR (virtual reality). VR places the user in an alternative digital world through a head-mounted display in a static environment. It is a fully immersive experience where everything the user sees and hears is transformed. It takes the user through a thoughtfully narrated and contained journey. This is where the HoloLens can improve upon the mistake Glass made. The future of AR needs curation to expand on the digital immersion. Here are some key areas to bridge that gap:

1. Curated events that provide a narrative

Event-based activities have a clear beginning and an end, so it allows users to try AR without being tied down to constant use. We sporadically consume media, so AR should follow the same use model. This removes the new technology barrier for mainstream users to adopt. HoloLens NFL concept is on the right path by showing the familiar game-watching experience. However, it does need to offer something beyond extending the TV screen.

One example is in the educational context, we’ve seen museums liven up exhibitions through AR. How about other areas, like the future of journalism? Can you sit with your family and navigate through the latest documentary to find what’s meaningful for you?

2. Curated digital objects that materialize in the physical world

Currently, AR annotates onto physical objects. MIT’s Reality Editor pushes the boundary further by revealing knobs and adjustment controls for pre-programmed objects. There is already a wave of new of AR-compatible products in the entertainment and education space. How about on-demand tangibles that supplement the AR experience, instead of the other way around? Carbon 3D’s fast printing capability can now materialize things in a fraction of the time.

What if digital information can activate the creation of ephemeral objects? This would be a great entry for objects-on-demand. In the health and wellness space, maybe there might be a home exercise regimen where a remote personal trainer can initiate generating the equipment you need. How about a cooking recipe that not only shows you how to grate celery root, but also creates the grater for you?

3. Curated environments that transform the existing layout

Google Glass’s approach is on-the-go computing, while HoloLens is spatially central and aimed for the home. The content can be targeted in this predictable spatial dimension. What if the space is set up to embrace AR? Today, we plan our living room around the TV and home theater. It is a unidirectional experience. Tomorrow, we may be planning it around AR media consumption.

How could we layout the space to display content and encourage interaction? Maybe we layout seating areas around the perimeter of the room to allow a larger floor surface for AR. What if there is entirely no furniture, but an empty canvas for the digital world? Imagine taking your kids to a live dance concert at home.

 

The AR space has immense potential, but curation and narration is necessary for mainstream users to adopt. We could consider the immersive experience as a movie. The AR wearer is the star of the show, but the plot (curated events), props (curated objects), and stage (curated environment) are equally as important. Microsoft’s HoloLens is already on the right path with consideration for an event-based experience. The AR industry is currently exploring possibilities for its use, and designers will have a large role in shaping its future. Realistically, the technology will take years to reach mainstream market, but we can’t wait to see the next iteration of AR.