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Thee Business Insider (BI) Headline states, “Inside Microsoft’s mixed reality mess, where confusion, rivalries, and canceled projects have roiled the company’s metaverse strategy.” (behind paywall). Other news sources have also reported problems at Hololens such as Windows Central’s story saying “History seems to be repeating itself as Microsoft’s mixed reality ambitions are a chaotic disaster” (the title of the Windows Central story uses more graphic language).
This will be just a quick take article with some of my comments and perspective.
As I was writing this article, I became aware that Alex Kipman had tweeted a response to an Engadget article which sites the BI article and says that Hololens 3 has been canceled.
Quoting Kipman’s Tweet:
“don’t believe what you read on the internet. #HoloLens is doing great, and if you search said internet they also said we had canceled #HoloLens2… which last I checked we shipped with success [)-)”
The BI article summarized the situation with Kipman as:
“Inside Microsoft’s mixed reality unit run by Hololens cocreator and Microsoft technical fellow Alex Kipman, more than 20 current and former employees who spoke to Insider, described confusion and strategic uncertainty as different factions argue about its future.”
Kipman’s response is a non-denial and more of a deflection. Sure, there are false reports all the time, but he did not deny either the specific allegation that the HL3 was canceled or the much broader issues reported in BI and elsewhere of turnover and turmoil within the Hololens group, with many people specifically criticizing Kipman’s leadership. My own sources say that the HL3 program was at least dramatically delayed in mid 2021.
As this blog demonstrated in Hololens 2 Display Evaluation (Part 2: Comparison to Hololens 1), Kipman is willing to look in a camera and lie about specifications (see below). Specifically, in the MWC19 video which introduced the Hololens 2, Kipman claimed that Hololens 2 had “47 pixels per degree,” but when I checked it, the Hololens 2 was less than 20 pixels per degree in terms of measurable. Kipman also played marketing games when he said that Hololens 2 had double the FOV of Hololens 1 when FOV was typically measured linearly (see for example, Microsoft Significantly Misrepresented HoloLens 2’s Field of View at Reveal) He later “clarified” that he meant “in-area,” which squares the value of the linear measurement. When a person fudges and lies about numbers you can later measure, their credibility on thing you can’t measure is completely lost.
Microsoft’s marketing appeared to try and spread FUD about my extensive analysis of the Hololens 2 image quality problems and I responded in: Hololens 2 Display Evaluation (Part 6: Microsoft’s FUD on Photographs)
The Hololens program started with a “fib,” calling what they were doing “Holograms” when there were no holograms anywhere in Hololens, not even in the optical elements. It indicated that the people running Hololens were putting hype ahead of substance and that all their claims might be suspect. Because Microsoft is so big, others decided it if you could beat them, join them, and the whole AR industry was soon misusing the term “Hologram” to mean 3-D stereo vision. Now, what word do you use for true “holograms?”
Then came Hololens 2, and they over-promised. They flat lied about the display’s resolution, and the overall image quality was horrible. They wasted a lot of money trying to get laser beam scanning to work and went backward from Hololens 1 in display quality (see: Hololens 2 Display Evaluation (Part 2: Comparison to Hololens 1). I expect better out of an established company.
Hololens 2 did greatly improve ergonomics and comfort (a lesson Magic Leap 2 missed), as I wrote about in Hololens 2 First Impressions: Good Ergonomics, But The LBS Resolution Math Fails!. Most importantly, they keep enough eye relief to be worn with typical glasses and added the ability to flip up the display. In many ways, Hololens 2 showed wearing comfort, including eye relief for glasses, and SLAM tracking is more important than a good display, at least in their enterprise applications.
It has always been clear that the Hololens program was spending much more than the revenue from product sales. The word was it was a loss-leader for Azure web services, and the so-called $22B US Army contract for “Hololen 2” was mostly for the web services contract. There are so many things wrong with the Hololens 2, including the variant Microsoft made for the US Army, that any rational person with military experience and technical knowledge should know it was ridiculous to say it would be deployable with landed troops anytime soon. Late last year the program was reported as being delayed.
Many other news sources focus on BI’s reported cancellation of Hololens 3 in mid-2021. I heard reports as far back as 2020 that Microsoft was shopping around for an LCOS display for use in the Hololens 3. Hololens 2 uses Laser Beam Scanning (LBS), which resulted in a horrible image (see my Hololens 2 Display Evaluation Series). Then In 2021, those same sources said that Microsoft had delayed or canceled the program. I was unsure if they had decided to stick with LBS or not. It looks like we now know.
LBS has been the fool’s gold of small displays for headsets and small projectors for near 30 years, at least since Microvision’s founding in 1993. This blog has been reporting on the problems with LBS since 2011. Microvision was quick to brand me a “Soothsayer” in a December 2011 8-K statement to the SEC, which gave this blog a lot of publicity in its early days and inspired me to start a Soothsayer series.
According to SEC filings, Microvision has lost since its founding ~$617M. Microsoft, which hired key technical people from Microvision and paid a license to Microvision, likely lost several hundreds of millions more trying to make the dreadful display in the Hololens 2. About the same time Microsoft’s licensing deal was made, Microvision strongly “pivoted” to being primarily an automotive LIDAR company, having little history in LIDAR before, after seeing the valuation of LIDAR companies. I have always found Microvision’s main product was selling stock.
I recently put out a story about LBS for AR in AWE 2021 Part 2: Laser Scanning – Oqmented, Dispelix, and ST Micro. I went in with low expectations and frankly it was less than I expected. It more served to show how far away they are from other display technologies.
The Hololens program has always been an “R&D project that escaped the lab.” It looks like Microsoft’s management saw Facebook buying Oculus plus all the noise that Magic Leap was making and threw money at an R&D program to turn out a R&D project in a product-like case.
My first reaction was that the Hololens 2 program’s choice of LBS for the display technology proved that the Hololens program was an R&D effort out of control and they didn’t know what they were doing. It likely cost Microsoft hundreds of millions of dollars, caused a whole new set of problems for the waveguides, increased the size and weight, increased the unit cost, and greatly delayed the whole effort. Hololens 1 uses a mediocre and moderately low-resolution LCOS display. Microsoft could have had their pick of much better devices that would have delivered more than four times the resolution of what the HL2 gave.
I remain skeptical that laser scanning display will prove a viable display technology until someone can prove it is anywhere close to being competitive with other display technologies.
Based on the BI story, by mid-2021, the upper management of Microsoft realized that the Hololens program was spending a lot of resources with little chance of ever turning the corner from being a niche market product. I don’t give Kipman’s non-denial, denial, much credibility given his past record of playing with the truth.