- By Joel Hruska on December 1, 2015 at 2:14 pm
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For the past six years, Microsoft has maintained a 60-person HoloLens development team in Israel. Now it’s shuttering the unit and shifting HoloLens development to the US. It’s not clear what this means for HoloLens, or whether Microsoft is moving on to related technologies it plans to bundle with the base AR headset — or if the company has something altogether different in mind for its still-developing AR platform. Reports are vague on this point, only specifying that the US team was working on a different technology compared with the Israeli version.
Avoiding Kinect’s fate
It’s hard to look at HoloLens and not see shadows of Kinect. Project Natal, as it was then known, got its own exclusive billing and extensive profiling from Redmond. The company didn’t just focus on gaming — it released videos and articles detailing how Kinect’s low-latency camera and motion-capture capabilities could be used in scientific research and analysis as well. To be fair, a number of research projects have used Kinect for various purposes, for exactly these reasons. Kinect 2 doesn’t seem to have made the same splash as Kinect did, but it wouldn’t surprise us to see research articles that focus on the abilities of the newer peripheral a few years down the line.
Unfortunately, for all Kinect’s potential in research and scientific analysis, it fell short as a gaming peripheral. Kinect 2 didn’t address these flaws effectively, no developers built software that targeted the camera’s capabilities, and the entire project was dropped from the Xbox One’s core requirements.
Microsoft has shown some impressive HoloLens abilities from the stage, but how well in-house gaming works in the real world depends a great deal on your living room configuration. The small viewing window on existing HoloLens devices makes it difficult to use the device the way many AR advocates would want. It’s also not clear if consumers want a project like this in the first place. Professional developers and modelers could definitely be a market, but Microsoft has to decide, at some point, who it wants to sell HoloLens too, and how it will target that market.
Microsoft’s official statement on the layoffs reads: “We continually evaluate our business needs and recently made decisions affecting some positions in one of our groups in Israel. As needed, we increase investments in some areas and de-invest in others which results in the movement of jobs across the organization, and at times, job eliminations.”
If Redmond moved HoloLens to the US to focus on integrating new technology, hopefully it’s a set of tech that helps expand HoloLens’ mass market appeal. Right now, like Kinect, the underlying technology is sound — but how it fits into the Xbox One’s gaming abilities (or those of any future console MS might develop) is unclear, at best.