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What Microsoft's HoloLens announcement means for the AR industry

By Jonathan Lewis, CEO

Like nearly everyone else with an interest in augmented reality, I was positively surprised by Microsoft’s recent unveiling of the HoloLens device.

 

The announcement was significant for several reasons:

 

Firstly, the scale of the commitment to the technology.  The HoloLens is not a gimmick to make Microsoft look like an innovative and cool company again (although it will probably achieve that anyway), but rather a significant step to embrace augmented reality and all its potential. If the biggest recent shift in consumer technology was from the laptop to the tablet, then the next is going to be from the pocket to the eye.

 

Microsoft got left behind by Apple when it came to the widespread adoption of tablets. It is clearly determined not to make the same mistake with augmented reality.

 

Secondly, I was very impressed by the technology itself. As I understand it, Microsoft has developed a technology called an “Exit Pupil Expander” – IP it acquired as part of the takeover of Nokia. A brief description of the technology can be found here. The quality of the AR experience was very good and critically, I understand that Microsoft can mass-produce its optics at a commercially attractive price.

 

Thirdly, was Microsoft’s liberal use of the word “holographic” to describe the technology.  At TruLife Optics we produce holograms on the optic itself as a way of projecting light into the eye. With Microsoft the word holographic refers to the 3D objects it creates in a user’s field of view. It may seem like splitting hairs, but it is an important distinction.

 

And lastly, the announcement of the HoloLens clearly has profound implications for every other OEM trying to break into the AR market.

 

We can safely assume that Microsoft is patented up to the eyeballs when it comes to its Exit Pupil Expander (EPE) technology. That means that potentially there is one less technology game in town for everyone else in AR. If the likes of Apple, Samsung and the rest can’t use EPE then they have to look around for another technology that can achieve similar results. That means identifying an AR optic solution that has superb functionality and which can be mass-produced at a sensible price point.

 

I am delighted that Microsoft has given the AR market a much needed shot in the arm.

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