Plenty of tech companies are seeking to revolutionize how people work, but the ideas are typically limited to office workers. But Microsoft, through its HoloLens mixed reality headset, is zeroing in on a key target: the “firstline” workers who don’t spend all their time sitting at a desk.
Microsoft announced at its Future Decoded conference in London this morning it is expanding the availability of the device to 29 new countries and announced plans for a new hardhat accessory for HoloLens next year, to be made by one of the company’s partners.
In addition, the device is now certified as protective eyewear, setting Microsoft up to sell HoloLens to a larger variety of manufacturers, healthcare companies, design and construction companies not just for planning projects but for workers in factories or the field.
In a blog post tied to the event, Lorraine Bardeen, general manager for Microsoft HoloLens and Windows Experiences, explained the company’s rationale for focusing on these firstline workers, which Microsoft claims make up 80 percent of the workforce.
Firstline Workers are more than two billion people in roles that make them the first points of contact between a company and the world it serves. They are often the first to engage customers, the first to represent a company’s brand, and the first to see products and services in action. They form the backbone of many of the world’s largest industries, but they’ve been largely underserved by technology. Without them, the ambitions of many organizations could not be brought to life. Mixed reality is poised to help them work together, problem solve, and communicate in more immersive ways.
Microsoft hasn’t left the office worker out in the cold either. The company sees the device as a way to allow more people to work remotely through virtual meetings and 3D collaboration.
Microsoft is continuing to build out the technology powering HoloLens, and the company is planning to address some of the “most asked for software updates” early next year.
Microsoft has positioned the HoloLens not as a consumer-facing entertainment device but as an enterprise collaboration tool that complements its other offerings such as Office 365. The developer-focused model costs $3,000, while the commercial version is priced at $5,000.
On the consumer side, Microsoft worked with partners HP, Dell, Lenovo and Acer to release a slate of virtual reality headsets starting at $399 and running the Windows Mixed Reality platform. Another headset, this one from Samsung, coming soon.
Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president for Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group, explained in an interview with GeekWire last month why Microsoft is pursuing its own mixed reality headset for some uses and partnering with other companies on consumer-facing devices.
“Our strategy in general with hardware is to enter only when we think that there is a need for us to pioneer a new category, or to drive some differentiation, or invest where people are not willing to invest,” Mehdi said. In areas where people are willing to invest — and there’s a lot of interest in investing (in virtual reality) — we feel working with partners is great.
Updated at 3:25 p.m. to clarify that a Microsoft partner will make the hardhat accessory.