Tech companies are certainly doing some clever stuff with glasses at the moment – to the extent that an emerging product category, that of “smart glasses”, has been tipped to see sales of over 12 million by 2020. We’ve been particularly intrigued by one of the early projects in this area, Google Glass – but the Microsoft HoloLens could actually turn out to be the bigger game-changer.

What exactly is Microsoft HoloLens?

Juniper Research defines smart glasses as “head-mounted … devices that provide display and computing capabilities while overlaying, but not replacing, the visual world”. That’s a handy introduction to HoloLens; however, whereas Google Glass has been an attempt to integrate familiar smartphone functionality into eyewear, Microsoft has built HoloLens specifically for use indoors and for purposes that are not currently covered by smartphones.

It is largely for this reason that Juniper has expressed more optimism about the future and potential of HoloLens in comparison to Google Glass. Through the use of what Microsoft has called “holograms”, HoloLens could revolutionise a range of familiar uses for IT, including engineering, design and research. This video provides an especially exciting insight into the fresh potential.

Smart glasses: not for fashionistas, just yet…

One good reason for Juniper’s optimism is that, unlike Google Glass, HoloLens is not intended for everyday outdoor use and so there is less need for the headset to look stylish and inconspicuous. In fact, many people might say that the HoloLens headgear looks the exact opposite – though you can check out the image below to judge for yourself. It certainly looks futuristic, at any rate.

Microsoft HoloLens: The True Future of Augmented Reality?
Image from Microsoft Corporation

Still, as the technology advances, it’s possible that, one day, Microsoft could make HoloLens eyewear that remains highly functional, but looks little different to the stylish eyewear on offer from SelectSpecs. Maybe then, smart glasses will finally progress from a mere curiosity for the geekier among us, and capture the mainstream appeal that has made smartphones such huge sellers. What should help is that Microsoft has dubbed HoloLens a Windows 10 device – so, its interface should already be immediately familiar to many of us.

So, when will HoloLens actually arrive?

It’s unclear when the average person will be able to walk into a shop and see a Microsoft HoloLens system on a shelf, ready for purchase. In fact, the product might even be too expensive for the average person to consider buying. Microsoft recently opened preorders for the HoloLens Development Edition – that’s the version of HoloLens aimed at developers who will make software for the headset ahead of its release to customers – with a price tag of $3,000.

This Development Edition will start shipping on March 30, but that’s only in the United States and Canada. There could be a gradual rollout; Microsoft has said that the opening of preorders is only “the first step in our journey to customers”. However, the corporation paints a rosy picture of the future for HoloLens, enthusing: “The future of technology will not be confined to just two dimensions – our future interaction with technology will more closely mirror our real world.” There are so many exciting possibilities, but you probably shouldn’t expect them – yet – to come from Google…

By james