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Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 surprisingly still a thing, will get Windows 11 treatment

This is, we're told, a good thing

Though Microsoft's mixed reality teams took a hit this year in terms of cost cuts and layoffs, the IT giant is pushing forward with its HoloLens 2 headset, with plans to upgrade it to Windows 11.

The free update will come in the first half of this year, we're told, with Redmond putting an emphasis on the mixed-reality device's immersive and security capabilities in the industrial space, with the applications for such sectors as manufacturing, healthcare, and automotive that run on the platform.

"HoloLens 2 has been changing the way frontline workers collaborate, learn and work in industrial settings, from factories to service locations and supply chain warehouses," wrote Robin Seiler, COO and corporate vice president of Windows and devices at Microsoft, toward the end of last week.

Bringing Windows 11 to HoloLens includes providing continuous platform support, so organizations will receive monthly security servicing updates to help protect sensitive data and improve application performance.

Windows 11 isn't the only upgrade the device is getting. Along with the OS, Microsoft also is bringing developer tools like its Edge WebView2 control to its $3,500 HoloLens 2, letting development teams to embed web technologies like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript into applications for the platform.

"By upgrading to Windows 11, HoloLens 2 will continue to provide these tools and benefits while ensuring the most secure mixed reality environments for our industrial metaverse customers," Seiler wrote.

It's been an up-and-down ride over the past year or so for the four-year-old HoloLens effort. Alex Kipman, who created the HoloLens and led Redmond's mixed reality group, was drummed out in June and a few months later reports surfaced that testing done by the US Army found that a customized version of the virtual-reality headsets for the military gave soldiers headaches and nausea.

The Army in 2021 gave Microsoft a contract worth up to $22 billion for 120,000 of the headsets, though this January Congress hit the brakes on the project, except for research into improving the hardware's heads-up display and maps and ability to help soldiers in low-visibility situations.

Weeks later, Microsoft announced it was shuttering its AltspaceVR social platform, closing its Mixed Reality Tool Kit (MRTK) program, and laying off workers in its HoloLens VR headset team, as part of a larger strategy to shed 10,000 jobs this year, or about five percent of the workforce. The Windows goliath decided the real – and profitable – future for virtual and augmented reality lies in the commercial space rather than with consumers.

This is at a time when shipments of augmented and virtual reality goggles dropped by a fifth in 2022 versus the year before, according to industry figures.

Soon after news of the layoffs at Microsoft broke, Seiler reiterated Microsoft's support for HoloLens 2, calling it and Dynamics 365 mixed reality apps "key components of Industrial Metaverse deployments, connecting the benefits of digital transformation to frontline workers in field service, factory operations, and many other use cases."

As an example, Seiler outlined how Porsche Cars North America is using the headsets and apps to train technicians and improve customer service.

The upgrade with Microsoft 11 is an example of Redmond's ongoing support, despite the cost and job cuts, we're told. There have also been other positive steps for the headsets. Though it seems a HoloLens 3 is off the table, it's estimated by IDC analysts that roughly 300,000 HoloLens and HoloLens 2 devices have been sold to date.

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In December, Microsoft announced the integration of HoloLens with Teams and a report earlier this month in the Army Times suggested Microsoft and military researchers are developing version 1.2 of the HoloLens-for-military headset for the Army that includes a refined design and could be ready for testing in 2025.

The Army bought 5,000 headsets with the version 1.0 design and another 5,000 with version 1.1, which may be delivered early next year, according to the report.

Seiler said Microsoft also is adding new features to the Dynamics 365 Guide software, including enabling 3D annotations and creating a "restricted mode" with stricter access controls that organizations can use to protect against unauthorized access to confidential and highly sensitive data.

Another new feature is the ability to toggle video on or off before a Teams call, along with improvements to the quality and reliability of call streaming. ®

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