Microsoft’s ‘holoportation’ tech could be key to supplanting phones

There is a growing sense of anxiety among tech giants of the Samsung and Apple variety that we may have reached “peak smartphone,” a point at which demand levels off and sales plummet. You could argue when adding beveled corners to a device becomes a major selling point, a la the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, it signals meaningful improvements have essentially stagnated.

For this reason, there has been much frenzy over virtual and augmented reality as a means of creating the next platform that will succeed the smartphone. Having cut my teeth in virtual reality with Google Cardboard, I was far from convinced. To my mind, virtual reality offered a novel experience, but an essentially gimmicky one, devoid of the meaningful use cases that boosted smartphones to stardom. That was until now. With the preview of Microsoft’s “holoportation” technology last week, we could be seeing the first glimmerings of the technology that will finally supplant the smartphone.

From the telegraph all the way down to the modern computer and smartphone, the one thing that these technologies shared is that they fundamentally reshaped the way humans communicate. For a new technology to replace smartphones, it needs to have the kind of revolutionary benefits that email had over handwritten letters. It’s easy to see how the holoportation technology Microsoft is developing could have such an impact — essentially offering the ability to project a real-time 3D facsimile of oneself into another person’s field of view during a conversation.

We’re still in the early days of holoportation. It currently requires an outrageous conglomeration of cameras positioned throughout the room to achieve the desired effect, as well as a specialized lighting arrangement, to say nothing of the HoloLens itself. Nonetheless, as a proof of concept, it is incredibly effective and one can easily imagine how it might supplant the current standards for teleconferencing and video chat. But for it to go beyond that though, to truly replace smartphones, the stationary mounted cameras will have to go. Even in this domain there are options: One could imagine multiple wrist worn drone cameras of the Nixie variety leaping into the air and assembling in the proper locations to create the hologram.

While Microsoft is obviously billing holoportation around its HoloLens platform, there’s little reason to believe it couldn’t be adapted for virtual reality headsets of the Oculus Rift variety. This would make the concept of holoportation even more intriguing, allowing users to project their holograms into entirely different worlds. Want to meet your father on the top of the Eiffel tower for an afternoon chat? Just strap on the virtual reality headset.

This is almost certainly the kind of potential Mark Zuckerberg was thinking when he said virtual reality has the potential to fundamentally reshape how we communicate, and the reason Facebook, essentially a communications concern, acquired the VR company Oculus. While Facebook has yet to release any specs on a holoportation technology of its own, it’s difficult to believe the company isn’t working on it. In the meantime, savor your smartphone calls — they may soon be the stuff of antiquity.

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