With the HoloLens now being offered on a subscription basis in Europe, will SMEs start embracing immersive tech?
Since the HoloLens was first released almost three years ago, Microsoft has steadily been building partnerships and demonstrating an array of industry use cases across manufacturing, engineering, healthcare, education and many others.
Rather than place users in a fully computer-generated world, as virtual reality does, HoloLens allows users to put 3D digital models in the room alongside them. As the Windows-10-based product does not have wires or external cameras, or require a phone or PC connection, users can walk around the objects they create and interact with them using gestures, gaze and voice. This tends to make it well suited for onsite industrial applications.
Yet while many large companies have adopted mixed reality and enthusiastically evangelized about the efficiency gains that they achieved with HoloLens applications, the $3,000 price tag of the device has been perceived as a barrier for adoption among smaller players, who understandably aren’t sure that the ROI would be justified in onboarding the technology at this relatively early stage.
This is why it’s significant to see the Microsoft partnering with JTRS and its parent firm Econocom to rollout a new Mixed Reality as a Service offering which will allow customers to get a HoloLens on a subscription basis across Europe. The packages start at £260 per month and include device, delivery, a swap warranty, and collection and recycling at the end of the term.
This technology and solutions are now becoming accessible to all companies,” adds Marc Bringuier, Strategic and International Partnership Manager at Econocom. “With the HoloLens partnership, we’ve brought together a community of companies, all of whom are leaders in their markets and are committed to facilitating companies’ access to mixed reality.
JTRS also offers add-on options to the subscription, including an ability to increase the number of HoloLens devices received and keeping some of them when the term ends. The company can also set up the headsets before delivery and offers starter packs and training. In the UK, the standard subscription model offer is a minimum of 12 months or 24 months, with flexibility and device refresh options available – important considering that we’re expecting a new upgraded version of the HoloLens to be announced in the next few months.
Out of the 39 markets where the HoloLens is available globally, 29 are in Europe, so it makes sense that Microsoft has chosen to pilot this new model in the region. According to Leila Martine, Director of Product Marketing at Microsoft, “Europe is the first market in which we’re working with authorized resellers to offer HoloLens as part of a subscription model to help support the depth of customer and Mixed Reality Partner Program partners’ needs we’ve seen in this market.”
The VR and AR device global market is predicted to reach circa $1.8 billion this year, and according to market intelligence firm IDC, the sector as a whole will see revenues of more than $162 billion in 2020 – up from $5.2 billion in 2016. Yet within Microsoft’s mixed reality strategy, hardware is only one piece of the puzzle. At last year’s Build conference they outlined their ambition to become the go-to platform for immersive experiences across all devices, and recent moves seem to back this up, opting for an open and collaborative approach rather than the “walled garden” strategy favored by companies such as Apple.
Since we live in a world where ownership is outdated and where technology is used over time, it makes more sense for institutions to use an as-a-service subscription to access Microsoft HoloLens. Customers can now get up and running much quicker, with HoloLens and apps, whether it be for space planning, industrial or educational training, use within design, maintenance or operations. This time to market advantage can be material to how companies save time and money, today.
Microsoft has also been developing an array of first party collaborative apps such as Remote Assistance (which enables hands-free video calling, image sharing and mixed reality annotations to share what they see with an expert to solve problems and complete tasks) and Microsoft Layouts (which lets users import 3D models to create and visualize room layouts and edits with multiple stakeholders in real time.
Working on HoloLens over the past three years, we have learnt just how important it is to increase the number of “out of the box” solutions we have on offer to equip customers with the tools and technology they need to accelerate innovation. In this way, customers can pick up their HoloLens device, install the application they need and begin getting value straight away,” says Martine. “Alongside this, we’ve partnered with a range of software companies from start-ups to large enterprises to create extensible solutions that are easy for our customers to get started with.
One example that Martine gives of this sort of successful partnership is UK startup Kazendi which allows co-workers to remotely meet, collaborate and connect with 3D models and 2D documents via HoloLens. Meanwhile, PTC’s Vuforia Studio offers business native support for building and rapidly creating scalable experiences without the need for skills programming or designers. This sort of out-of-the-box functionality, together with the support and affordability offered in the subscription model, is likely to entice many SMEs into dipping their toes into the immersive tech market, and that in turn could cement Microsoft’s dominance in that space.