In a jaw-dropping moment at this week’s TED conference in Vancouver, HoloLens creator Alex Kipman placed a holographic phone call to NASA scientist Jeffrey Norris, who was stationed at a HoloLens across the street.
A life-size version of Norris appeared onstage with Kipman, who was wearing the Microsoft augmented reality headset. The two held a conversation while Norris stood atop a virtual Mars landscape, based on data from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. (A video of the chat was leaked to YouTube and later removed.)
It was the culmination of a demo that also saw Kipman spin his hand to make toadstools and butterflies appear onstage, and extoll the ability of technology like HoloLens to offer us the same digital powers we experience with our computers and tablets—while interacting with a decidedly analog world.
But in comments reported by Re/Code’s Ina Fried, Kipman also made clear that the technology may not be quite ready for prime-time. While the first HoloLens developer kits are set to start shipping this quarter, consumers could have a much longer wait.
“When I feel the world is ready, then we will allow normal people to buy it,” Kipman told reporters, according to Re/Code. “It could be as soon as we say ‘yes,’ and it could be as long as a ‘very long time.’”
Kipman said that while the hardware is robust, there’s not yet enough content to make the device useful to consumers. “If a consumer bought it today, they would have 12 things to do with it,” he reportedly said. “And they would say ‘Cool, I bought a $3,000 product that I can do 12 things with and now it is collecting dust.’”
Fried connects Microsoft’s reluctance to their poor experience with the Kinect depth-sensing camera for Xbox, which saw strong initial sales that quickly dropped off after consumers lost interest in the device.
Nevertheless, Kipman’s speech made a compelling case for HoloLens’ relevance, playing on people’s anxiety that we spend too much time in front of screens.
“I bet our children’s children will grow up in a world devoid of 2-D technology,” he said. He called augmented reality “technology that will let us return to the humanity that brought us where we are today, technology that will let us stop living inside this 2-D world of monitors and pixels, and let us start remembering what it feels like to live in our 3-D world.”
It’s a bold vision, and one that Microsoft clearly hopes to play a central role in.