Sunday, January 25, 2015

My views on what HoloLens means for Unified Communications

Warning... this is strictly an opinion piece with a lot of wishful thinking.

Wow... Microsoft dropped a bombshell on all of us with HoloLens. I spend a lot of time talking about technology with my kids (I have 5 in case you are wondering) and what the future could look like. I've been hoping for something like HoloLens for a very long time. I talk with my kids about how computing can be different, how user interfaces will change and what it could mean for how we interact with the world. Of course with kids you just have to give them that little push and their minds go crazy with possibilities because they don't know the boundaries that adults do.

One of my dreams is to be able to record every part of my real life and then be able to replay past events at will and have them projected via Augmented Reality into real life so I can see them again. Get to experience people from my past and see those little nuisances about them as humans that get lost in memories sometimes. I don't expect HoloLens to do this out of the box of course... but it is the first step in that direction.

My kids of course see completely different possibilities... it was a lot of fun to show them the video of the news briefing and to see them sucked in by the magic of the HoloLens technology... then the video showed a Minecraft like game that was being played in the real world and their little brains literally exploded. This was something they knew... but completely played in a different context.

Their brains exploded yet again when the video blew up a wall with Minecraft TNT and revealed a whole world behind it with the wall becoming Minecraft blocks.

Suddenly they weren't limited to the Minecraft world that is finite... as one of my daughters put it... "I can build a castle in the backyard now (we have over 2 acres). See how they have no boundaries?

We went on to talk more about how it could be used, very excitedly I might add.

My oldest daughter asked "do you think I could design dresses for my sisters and see what they look like on them before I make them?"

Another daughter thought about her drama class and everyone having a HoloLens and being able to see their stage design and practice on the stage before it was even built.

My 15 yo son being a recent Star Trek fan (yes he watched all the seasons on Netflix... from the beginning) saw the possibility of Holodeck like experience but was quick to point out that the Holodeck can create real objects you can interact with... and not holograms.

But listening about my kids and their ideas about the HoloLens isn't why you pulled up my blog (although that may get me more visits)... 

Unified Communications and the HoloLens

When I saw HoloLens for the first time during the Windows 10 news briefing my mind was going crazy with what this means for Unified Communications. I think for many of us, we've been waiting for the "what is next" for Unified Communications and I believe HoloLens is it. Obviously Microsoft already sees it as a communications tool because they showed clips of it being used as such.

A woman walking through an office environment having a video conversation with a colleague who mentions uploading a file to OneDrive, then I assume what he uploaded becomes viewable to her instantly.

In another demonstration a woman is trying to fix a drain and again is having a video conversation, but now the person on the other end can draw indicators as to what to do that become holograms for the woman in her real life view.

In another view we see two people interacting with the surface of the planet Mars and the other person is represented as an avatar. They are both collaborating with the surface of Mars and indicating where they want to do the work.

We already know that Skype and Lync are sharing a lot of technologies, and the next version of Lync will be called Skype for Business. We also know that Microsoft is creating an Enterprise version of the HoloLens. So I think it is safe to assume that anything that the HoloLens can do with Consumer Skype will apply to Skype for Business.

HoloLens and the Skype for Business Call Center

One of the more exciting things that popped in my mind was a Consumer Skype calling a Skype for Business Call Center using HoloLens. Think about product support where it is really hard to describe your problem and even harder to tell someone the solution (like installing a light switch). How amazing would it be to see the problem, and then to be able to instruct using holograms as to what to change to fix the issue.

Obviously this could be killer for Help Desk applications, especially hardware issues. But I think more importantly, this would be a key use of the Skype-Lync Federation that Microsoft has been building on and recently added the ability to do Video. Consumer to Business communications is clearly something Microsoft has been trying to crack for a long time.

HoloLens and Skype for Business Meetings

I have a couple different visions for how it could be used.

First of all if we want to take the notion of how meetings are today in the Lync product, I can easily see being able to put different pieces of content/modalities all around your office, on different walls, floating in space in front of you. You won't be limited to the real estate of the computer screens to display all the different modalities. I think it would be really cool to move things around like minority report. Maybe if you want to upload a file from your PC, you look at it and then everything you've uploaded to OneDrive from that PC appears as an option. You literally grab the file using your hands and drag it over to the meeting.

I can also see meeting rooms setup to hold meetings where avatars represented by holograms appear in seats and the content appears in various places around the room. When someone speaks, the audio appears to come from that direction. With the ability for people to indicate with holograms what they are talking about, suddenly the whiteboard we have today, can become so much more. What happens when a Visio diagram becomes 3D (because at some point it will be a Universal App right?) and now we can interact with each the elements as holographic objects.

Take the last example and lets take it into a Holodeck style room. Now a real estate company can visualize a map of an area and have all the participants again represented by avatars. But now they can collaborate on which areas to focus and maybe even overlay what their new development could look like. Maybe instead they take a walk through of a new building that an architect rendered for them even before it is built.


In my mind, Microsoft has quite a bit of work to do to enable this type of collaboration. We need a new type of media and SDP application type. Skype clients have to be written for the HoloLens that not only can talk to Consumer Skype, but also Skype for Business. That client also needs to be aware of the PC client as well, because along with HoloLens type data, there will no doubt be the need to share Desktops, PPTs, and other more traditional content.  There will be privacy issues that will need to be addressed, because now with a device like this, it will be hard for people to know when they are on camera or not... or even more important when they are being recorded.

Finally I think it would be stupid to not assume that every Unified Communications manufacturer is now starting to brain storm what HoloLens means for them. This is after all a device based on Windows 10 and has an API that they can leverage the same as Microsoft can. Obviously Microsoft has an advantage when developing for their own platform, but none of what I've written here is strictly something that only Microsoft can accomplish.

I'm excited for what the future holds with this new Holographic computing.

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