Back in 2012, an alleged leak detailed Microsoft’s plan for glasses that placed interactive holograms in the world around you. Today, at a Windows 10 presentation, Microsoft showed off the real project behind those sketches. It’s called HoloLens. And it’s a pretty wild idea.
Much like what we know of the $2 billion stealth startup Magic Leap, HoloLens is a fully functional wearable computer in the form of glasses. Rather than focus on the lightweight, one-line notifications we see in Google Glass, these glasses map the world around you, and make 3-D models appear in your vision–even tracking your hands and voice as they interact with those virtual objects.
Microsoft’s Alex Kipman , who helped birth the Kinect camera, showed off a sizzle reel of possibilities–all which appeared to be CGI demos rather than real use cases Microsoft had filmed–in which people touched virtual floating screens and fixed pieces on virtual motorcycles. But they also showed an onstage demo, in which they demonstrated HoloStudio–a sort of Microsoft Paint, but in full 3-D. How well did it work? It was tough to say for our tech editor Harry McCracken, who could only watch a feed of all those first-person the holograms projected on a wall, rather than try the system himself just yet.
Holograms are supposedly baked into the Windows 10 APIs as a native standard, meaning third party developers can theoretically build holographic apps for HoloLens. There are a few catches to this idea, of course. For one, they’ve yet to really explain how extensive those APIs are. And more importantly, HoloLens isn’t even a real product yet! For the time being, it’s still a very neat tech demo without a public ship date (Microsoft informally pegs the launch to whenever Windows 10 ships). So it’s hard to imagine developers building software for a piece of hardware that is yet to exist.
That said, while Microsoft showed off their HoloLens technology today, they did so hedging their bets. Because the Windows 10 holographic APIs–again, whatever they may be–are being built to work with third party hardware. The company even called out Magic Leap’s unseen glasses–which are likely a HoloLens competitor–as a platform that might run Windows 10 holographic tech.
In other words, Microsoft is getting into holograms, and they are also getting into hologram hardware. But from every indication we have, Microsoft is open to working with other companies in this space, licensing their software to separate hardware vendors as they do for desktops and laptops.
For more: Read Harry McCracken’s hands-on with Hololens.