HoloLens and anticipating the next big smartphone/PC-converged solution

But, when it comes to Microsoft versus Apple in this space, will history repeat itself?

Microsoft hololens virtual reality glasses worn by woman
Beck Diefenbach/Reuters

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that the market is getting ready to pivot to the next big computing experience. I’m convinced we don’t need two or three separate computing devices that increasingly do the same things.

PCs, smartphones and tablets all can be used for games, productivity applications and communications. At the same time, we’re increasingly getting into trouble using our smartphones inappropriately, which has resulted in laws restricting their use while doing other things – like driving.   

It’s getting closer to a time when we’ll move to a converged solution that will both do all we do on our smartphones, PCs and tablets, and allow us to use the technology more safely. I was at Microsoft Build this month [disclosure: Microsoft is a client of the author], and I’m increasingly convinced their HoloLens could evolve into this converged platform replacement for our personal technology needs.

Fixing the safety problem

The issue with the screen phones that took over the market after the iPhone launched is that you have to look at them to use them. And looking at them typically takes your eyes off everything else, which is why smartphones increasingly are the cause of so many driving accidents.

We’ve had the concept of heads-up displays in cars and fighter planes for decades. HUDs allow you to both look at information and see where you are going at the same time. In essence, we need a head-mounted display we can see through.

This is what got me to HoloLens. It’s an industrial AR solution that places an impressive amount of computing power on your head. The display is wherever you look, substantially reducing the risk of walking into something while you’re using the technology.

Adding a voice interface

A fascinating current conundrum is that Microsoft’s Cortana is both far better than Apple’s Siri and far less used. This is because Siri was tied to the phone, and folks just aren’t used to using their PCs in the same way.  But, were you to combine the platforms, Cortana would likely better reach its potential, because that blending would likely force more use. More importantly, at Build, Microsoft showcased significant advancements in their AI efforts, dramatically improving their ability to do things like translate languages in real time, master speech to text, as well as improvements in comprehension.

This means – when applied to personal technology – the solution could allow you to travel and communicate word-wide. It would allow you to approach keyboard accuracy with voice, and still do things like giving you the names of folks that walk up to you. (I’ve always had a huge problem remembering names.)

A voice interface frees up your hands, and an increasing use of AI allows you to provide ever-richer commands to get the solution to do what you want. For instance, at some future point, you could likely just provide a framework for an email and the computer would fill in the details.   

Expanding peripherals

One of the issues with HoloLens right now is that the peripherals that work with it are very limited. That would need to change were this tech to reach its full potential. Keyboard solutions, the ability to index the entire hand (so you could grab virtual objects as opposed to “air-clicking” them), and some kind of a 3D mouse solution or haptic glove would seem obvious steps.

Initially, you’d want to emulate a smartphone, PC or tablet, depending on use, and then eventually blend the concepts into a rendered amalgam of the three that would dynamically shift based on need.  

I believe we’re getting close to having a personal technology solution that could replace smartphones, PCs and tablets. The closest thing in market, in my opinion, is the Microsoft HoloLens.

I feel that Microsoft doesn’t yet get how powerful and potentially disruptive this technology could grow to be.  Currently, it’s an industrial solution that’s almost entirely focused on both the traditional AR market areas of blending rendered objects into physical spaces for things like Space Planning and for technician support. But it could evolve into something that could displace every piece of technology we currently have, simultaneously providing a vastly safer and far more productive future.  

What’s fascinating is that, inside Microsoft, they came up with the idea for an iPhone-like product, an iPad-like product and even an Apple Watch-like product before Apple did…they just didn’t execute. Under Satya Nadella they are executing much better, and post-Steve Jobs Apple is struggling.

Still, I wonder whether history will again repeat itself.

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