Given the recent hype and hurly-burly surrounding virtual reality, you can be forgiven for forgetting about the HoloLens.
To recap: The HoloLens is Microsoft's upcoming augmented reality (AR) headset. It featured at E3 2015, where it was used to turn Minecraft into a touchable, tangible world. The demo was darn impressive to behold, and it made us excited for its potential in the betterment of science, society, and entertainment (with "cool awesome games!!" being priority number one, of course).
Microsoft subsequently went a bit quiet on the HoloLens for the rest of 2015, but it's a new year and we have some new information about the device.
Late last week, Bruce Harris, a "Microsoft Technical Evangelist" talked about the HoloLens at an event in Tel Aviv. The headset is wireless (no wired option is planned), is capable of running any application that's compatible with Windows 10, and communicates via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Two particularly noteworthy points popped up as well: The HoloLens' battery offers between 2.5 and 5.5 hours of juice depending on how hard you're pushing it, and its field of view is comparable to a 15-inch monitor positioned about two feet from your face.
In our heart of hearts, we always knew the first consumer iteration of the HoloLens can't possibly be as flawlessly cool as it appears to be in that Minecraft demo. But 15 inches is a pretty narrow field of view. Whatever immersion HoloLens offers will presumably be shattered if you turn your head towards a sudden noise. That's an interesting contrast to VR, which surrounds you with its sound and picture.
Microsoft has already pledged to improve the HoloLens' field of vision as quickly as price and manufacturing allows. Which brings up another point: The HoloLens is likely going to be expensive.
There's no price tag on the consumer version of the hardware yet, but devkits are due to start shipping this quarter, and cost $3000 each. Tech prices tumble quickly, but it's hard to imagine a scenario wherein the HoloLens debuts on the market for less than $500 USD. And by the time it does, VR headsets will probably have undergone at least one general price drop.
None of this means the HoloLens is doomed. Rather, it's going to be a long-term project for Microsoft that should yield some game-changing results once all that initial polishing and tweaking is done with. It'll be interesting to see if Microsoft has the endurance necessary to stay with the project that long. After all, AR is relatively new tech. VR went through its awkward teenage phase (and gave us all a reality check re: the limits of its capabilities) in the '90s. AR has a lot of growing up to do.
But by the time the HoloLens is capable of delivering the experience it promised at E3 2015 (which, frankly, is a dream worth waiting for), will kids still care about Minecraft?
"Yes" is the safest answer.