Microsoft HoloLens Could Make Conference Calls Really Fun - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // IT Strategy

Microsoft HoloLens Could Make Conference Calls Really Fun

Everyone should have the chance to create an ideal virtual world for collaboration. With HoloLens, we could someday connect with colleagues in a fantasy French cafe, or on a World of Warcraft battlefield.

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Windows 10: 9 Killer Features
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With the announcement of Microsoft’s Project HoloLens coming to developers this spring, many are focused on immersive, otherworldly gaming applications of virtual reality. But what if the real killer app could be found in something far more mundane, such as the lowly conference call?

In considering communication science, it is easy to believe that we are cresting a new apex when it comes to "presence" -- the act of fooling your mind into thinking that you're in a virtual reality world. Palmer Luckey and his innovations behind Oculus Rift (which Facebook acquired for $2 billion) are making presence a reality. Now, Microsoft has upped the ante, unveiling what promises to be another game-changer with HoloLens, a head-mounted holographic computer.

The magic behind Project HoloLens is that it promises to present your brain with realistic 3D holograms that feel like navigable space. The result is that it feels like you are there -- wherever "there" may be. What HoloLens intends that is profoundly different from Oculus Rift, at least under its current development kit, is that you can see your hands and body -- as well as others -- interacting in this world. You are freed from your chair to move around and interact with others.

To my fellow Trekkies, welcome to the Holodeck v.0001.

Back to non-virtual reality, it's time to ask some hard questions. Why does gaming always get all the best toys? Why does enterprise IT have to just suck it up and be satisfied with smartphones and "ooooh" telepresence rooms? Why can't virtual reality be unleashed to improve our ability to communicate?

[ Can HoloLens actually make working fun? Read Geekend: HoloLens Makes Microsoft Cool. ]

Now that returns us to the humble conference call. Today, one could aptly define a conference call as a cacophony of beeps punctuated by people apologizing for their tardiness, lost connections, and speaking while on mute. At best, conference calls are ineffective. At their worst, they are a step above soul-crushing.

It doesn't have to be that way.

So listen up, Microsoft. Forget about apps that help NASA visit Mars and make life better for a total of four astronauts. Instead, think of us, the poor minions stuck on conference calls day in and out. We need the HoloLens now.

Can HoloLens Make You Love Conference Calls?

Can't imagine it? Well, we at the Hypervoice Consortium have been thinking long and hard about what communications will look like in 2025. [Download a full report here.] Allow me to present a vision of the future conference call.

Although I am actually sitting at my desk in snowbound Milwaukee, I see through my virtual reality headset the fields of Provence -- lavender swaying to and fro in the mistral, birds alighting around me. I see my colleagues Fred, John, and Gina approach wearing their best 17th century French peasant attire. I wave them over to sit down. Our conference call has started.

France is my happy place. I see them here, but that's not how they see me. 

For Fred, I am in his World of Warcraft Garrison. My attire? I’m totally a Night Elf Druid adorned with bark and leaves -- although I am clueless to this fact.

Conference call -- table for four is ready.
Conference call -- table for four is ready.

Gina is at a Parisian café, and sees us all sipping expensive espresso and people-watching.

John is fly-fishing. We're all wearing waders, standing knee-deep in an icy stream tying flies and casting (brilliantly, I might add) as we chat.

[Office for Android, Outlook upgrade, and more in Microsoft news.]

The point is that we are all working from virtual locations that best support our unique, highly individualized needs for optimal cognition. Some of us work better with limited noise and visual stimuli; others need the adrenal hit of a mission to snap into high gear.

In short, the burgeoning world of virtual reality promises us the ability to work within our most idealized context. Let's break out of the box of the fake plants and the conference tables pushed up against the wall. Instead of recreating the lowest common denominator for a telepresence call, why not flip the model and make it perfect for each of us?

And yes, some of us will continue to prefer the comfort of the good old telepresence room -- fake plant and all. To that I say: To each her own. I'm heading out to harvest some lavender.

How about you -- if you could create your perfect conference call virtual setting, what would it look like? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

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E. Kelly Fitzsimmons is a well-known serial entrepreneur who has founded, led, and sold several technology startups. Currently, she is the co-founder and director of HarQen, named one of Gartner's 2013 Cool Vendors in Unified Communications and Network Systems and Services, ... View Full Bio
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batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
2/6/2015 | 2:20:21 PM
Re: HoloLens conferences
@Gary_EL like everyione else... but with technology keep grow and evolves I think most of the workforce would be working from home :)
Gary_EL
50%
50%
Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
2/6/2015 | 12:52:18 PM
Re: HoloLens conferences
@Soozyg,
It's not just women in their forties with children, it's also old guys like me who live alone and work from home. I would hate to have to don business attire to make comments on IW.

But, wait! With this new invention, I wouldn't have to. I could VR myself into Charlton Heston in "The Ten Commandments", delivering the word of God to the Israelites. Just think of the authority and clout my every word would command!
SaneIT
50%
50%
SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
2/6/2015 | 7:55:50 AM
Re: HoloLens conferences
I don't see any problem with video conferences in general, use them quite often but both ends are in control of what the other person sees.  I control the camera and what their experience with me is, I set the tone of my persona and they do the same for themselves.  I think when you have people messing with your persona it gets weird.  It also makes me wonder if there would be legal issues with it.  Say I'm on a call with someone I really dislike and I mask his image with one of Jabba the Hut being choked out by slave Leia?  If that person finds out that I'm virtually killing them as they are speaking I'm pretty sure my HR department is going to hear about it.  Would they be able to take action against me?  I could just keep that image in my head and there would be no way to prove what I was thinking but once you put it out there in any media format there's the chance that it can get back to you.  How would that work in business? Would personal calls be any different?
zerox203
100%
0%
zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
2/5/2015 | 4:40:48 PM
Re: Microsoft HoloLens Could Make Conference Calls Really Fun
I'll admit that this is the first I'm hearing about Microsoft HoloLens. Apparently the news about it broke more than a week ago... what was I doing then? oh, right; Shoveling. I watched a fifteen minute presentation on Youtube, and man oh man was it convincing. I'm the first to express skepticism at press reveals, but if even one fourth of what they showed off there was the real deal, and even if the real timeline is two or three times what they've projected, this is still something to get very excited about. Of course, what I saw says nothing about the price or consumer accesibility - remember, that's largely what sunk Google Glass. Likewise, even though Microsoft touted all the great applications they're building with 3rd parties, it's not like they were going to get up there and say 'we have no third party support'. The device's success will depend on a large variety of great 3rd party apps, which we can't foresee.

As you point out, Teleconferencing is just one in a sea of possible applications,  and this opens infinite avenues for discussion. For teleconferencing specifically, I'd temper the discussion with my above statements. If these things are  500+ dollars a pair, it's no secret why most of us won't see them in the conference room or in our home offices. The vision you paint is cool, Kelly, but it's likely the building blocks are a bit further out than Microsoft would like us to believe. Someone has to build that french cafe and that icy stream for starters, not to mention necessary infrastructure, support, and more. Taking the WoW example as a hypothetical requires a license from Blizzard and a dedicated staff of probably dozens to maintain. That costs money, and who's to say it's all interoperable?

As to SaneIT's comments, you're right, but I'd point to the above again. We're getting a little ahead of ourselves here. Privacy concerns abound in the wearable and VR space, but that's a seperate issue from teleconferencing. There's room for regulation and restriction, but someone could do something creepy with their VR headset in private, at home without your approval, no doubt countless will, and I doubt regulators could do much about it. This is still a great jumping off point for a discussion about communication and privacy in the future, and I find Curt's points very agreeable. There's a reason people use text to communicate when they have uber-clear phone reception in their pockets. Let's make sure we steer the technology and not the other way around.
soozyg
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0%
soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
2/5/2015 | 11:42:26 AM
Re: HoloLens conferences
Curt, yes I would agree with that.

I represent a big demographic--women in their forties with children--and I can tell you that none of my female friends or colleagues want to do business via video calling. And it has purely to do with vanity. We feel so...disorganized and discheveled ....so much of the time and we don't want to have to put on makeup or look good for clients and colleagues to do work unless we absolutely have to.

There is another weird aspect to video calling and that is ...even though the movies show direct eye contact on video, in real life, we don't have that. When you look at the other person on the screen, they are looking down, because the cameras are above the screen. And if you look in the camera to speak, you're not looking at the person, you're looking at a black dot. Which is a very strange and awkward way to have a conversation.
Kelly22
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0%
Kelly22,
User Rank: Strategist
2/5/2015 | 11:26:42 AM
Re: HoloLens conferences
I suppose there are many people who require video/Skype calls in their everyday life, but I'm not one of them either. Though when I have had to use it (on 1 or 2 occasions), it has improved meeting productivity! I'm not big on video chat in general, but I'm far more likely to use it outside the office than at work.
Curt Franklin
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0%
Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/5/2015 | 11:05:29 AM
Re: HoloLens conferences
@soozyg, I tend to agree that we very rarely use video calling in the workplace. Vendors give me the impression that somewhere there are companies in which people use video calling the way we use instant messaging, but I haven't worked for one of those enlightened companies.

My personal life is different: I find that I use Facetime fairly often when I'm on the road (though only with my wife, my son, and my five-year-old nephew). I wonder how many people find themselves with that same sort of breakdown between uses for personal and business purposes.
Curt Franklin
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0%
Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
2/5/2015 | 10:20:20 AM
Re: HoloLens conferences
@SaneIT, remember when Second Life was going to be the venue for all our future conference calls and long-distance business interactions? I think that people had some of the same issues there -- that too much fantasy got in the way of everyday working interactions.

We're seeing a move to make long-distance communication much more "immersive" and I think that's a good thing. What we still have to figure out is precisely what that means. In January I realized that personal communications had truly changed when I was sitting on the floor on a concourse at McCarran airport using my iPad to have a video call with my wife in Florida (who was using her phone as the video instrument there). The holographic immersion might well be the next big step but we've got a bunch of "rules" on what we expect and how it works to figure out between now and universal acceptance.
soozyg
100%
0%
soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
2/5/2015 | 9:26:00 AM
Re: HoloLens conferences
I agree that people might find the notion freaky. Most people I do business with do NOT want to use Facetime or Skype. They think it's fun to see in the movies, but they much prefer to hide behind text and email. People rarely even call.
SaneIT
100%
0%
SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
2/5/2015 | 8:14:59 AM
HoloLens conferences
"I'm totally a Night Elf Druid adorned with bark and leaves -- although I am clueless to this fact."

I'm going to have to say that this might really weird some people out.  While I wouldn't mind that their setting is different than mine I really don't think that I want to be part of a fantasy world during a call.  I would hope that there is some control of your own avatar and things that people are allowed to subject it to.  In a business environment I'm assuming most people will behave but I have no doubts that someone will make it creepy and I think that will hinder adoption.  
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