It’s not often that a new product release has the potential to reshape the way people work and play. The PC, the browser, the smartphone – all of these products fell into that category.

Microsoft’s new HoloLens has the potential to do the same. (Check out some photos from Gizmodo here — they don't live up to the actual experience even a little bit — and this video, which doesn't do it justice, either).


Yes, that’s a big claim. But I’m here to challenge your thinking with this assertion: Over the next few years, HoloLens will set the bar for a new type of computing experience that suffuses our jobs, our shopping experiences, our methods for learning, and how we experience media, among other life vectors. And other vendors will have to respond to this innovation in holographic, mixed reality computing. 

Along with my colleagues Frank Gillett and James McQuivey, I’ve seen and used the HoloLens system for a series of demonstration scenarios. James and I have also published two reports – one for I&O leadersone for CMOs – analyzing HoloLens in depth. 

Of course, HoloLens sounds like it has extremely high potential for over-hyping. But in reality, it’s a product that tech management leaders need to watch closely throughout 2015 – and that you should plan to pilot as soon as Microsoft opens up testing and trial programs.

What is HoloLens? It’s part Windows, part wearables, and – we believe – the next natural computing interface. It’s a mixed reality, holographic computing experience that offers many of the best features of both virtual reality and augmented reality, plus several unique capabilities. The system:

  • Creates virtual reality simulations. These include rich, 360-degree environments with 3D visuals and spatial audio.
  • Augments physical objects and spaces. HoloLens drives powerful interactions between physical and digital worlds, allowing, for example, someone (the user or a remote participant) to “mark up” physical reality (like circling an object or drawing a digital reference design). In more immersive scenarios, users can still turn to a standard PC and mouse and use them while surrounded by a holographic landscape.
  • Entails gaze, voice, and gesture-based navigation. All of which are highly intuitive and simple to use, in my experience.
  • Adapts to surroundings. HoloLens employs sensors to understand its environment and to adapt the actions of holograms accordingly. One example? A hologram in motion bounces higher when it encounters a bouncy surface like a couch than a hard surface like the floor.

If you still don’t get it, know this: It’s wearable but not mobile; it’s more portable from room to room. Its capabilities far exceed the experience of today’s AR smart glasses while offering a VR experience to rival Oculus Rift. And it’s fully embedded into Windows 10, which contains a holographic computing engine.

Why is this such a big deal? One reason is that while a variety of products can do parts of what HoloLens can do, none do so in the same comprehensive, productive, and experiential way. And oh, what it can do: I describe numerous workforce enablement scenarios that will use HoloLens in my report. Of course, it’s also a platform for incredible customer experience scenarios: Imagine Home Depot renting out HoloLens units to customers and helping them install a light switch in their homes – without any previous training. Why do I think this would work? Because I’ve never installed a light switch in my life, but someone in a remote location showed me how to do it in real time with HoloLens – quite successfully.

There’s much more to say about this critical innovation from Microsoft. I invite you to read and download my report for much deeper insights.

J. P. Gownder is a vice president and principal analyst serving Infrastructure & Operations Professionals. Onalytica named him one of the five most important people on wearable computing for 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @jgownder