Microsoft first unveiled its HoloLens headset almost three years ago, and the company continues to sell them to developers and commercial customers. While HoloLens seemed like a product that would change a lot over time, Microsoft appears to have found specific customers that are willing to adopt the headsets early: firstline workers and information workers. These might not be consumers at home running around playing games with HoloLens, but the headsets are now being widely used in organizations for remote assistance, training, and prototyping.
Microsoft is now making its HoloLens headset available in 29 new European markets today, bringing the total up to 39 countries. That confidence in the existing headset comes from businesses wanting to purchase it in a range of countries. Microsoft has found that businesses are willing to purchase HoloLens to replace their existing tools despite the $3,000 price of the headset. “The alternative is so expensive that the total cost of switching… all of that cost is tiny compared to what they’re doing right now,” says Lorraine Bardeen, general manager of HoloLens in an interview with The Verge.
Firstline workers assembling cars, fixing elevators, and assembling retail stores have all found benefits in HoloLens thanks to its hands-free nature. Ford is using HoloLens to design cars, and surgeons are experimenting with the headsets for spine operations. You don’t have to hold a laptop, tablet, or a phone, and you can even use it as a remote assistance or training device to Skype video call a colleague and have them paint directions on what you’re seeing in front of you. It’s something I was impressed with during one of Microsoft’s original HoloLens demos, and I was able to fix a light bulb over Skype.
Engineers will now be able to use HoloLens as protective eyewear, as the headset has now passed basic impact tests for protective eyewear standards in the US and Europe. HoloLens has also been rated IP50, perfect for dusty construction areas. Microsoft is even introducing a HoloLens hard hat accessory so the headset can be worn with protective head gear.
It’s surprising to see Microsoft continue to broaden the distribution of HoloLens without new hardware, but rumors have suggested the company won’t introduce a successor until at least 2019. Plans were reportedly sidelined for a second version of HoloLens, in favour of bigger hardware changes thanks to a general lack of competition. Microsoft hasn’t said much about its future HoloLens hardware, but the company did reveal its next headset will have a custom AI chip designed by Microsoft.
Microsoft also launched its Windows Mixed Reality VR headsets recently, designed to be part of the family of headsets that include HoloLens. These are primarily VR experiences for now, with plans to blend these headsets in the future once the technology is ready. The software giant will also be releasing a new software update for HoloLens early next year, which will presumably bring its Windows 10 variant (currently Anniversary Update) up to a more modern version like Fall Creators Update.