Will the Highly Anticipated Microsoft HoloLens Drop at MWC 2019?

Watch out Magic Leap.

As the name suggests, Mobile World Congress is traditionally known for highlighting innovations in mobile, particularly smartphones, and between the 5G-supporting devices, foldable handsets, and gesture controlled smartphones on the docket for this year, 2019 isn’t expected to be all that different. But some early rumors indicate that Microsoft might flip the script by making an announcement about one of its most highly anticipated products that has little to do with smartphones.

Indeed, its next-gen Hololens, a new version of its unreleased augmented reality headset that debuted in 2015, could see a release as soon as Sunday. This is according to one of the company’s technical fellows who specializes in mixed reality, Alex Kipman, who tweeted a teaser video on February 11 that hints at a long-awaited HoloLens follow up. Microsoft hasn’t formally announced any other plans to drop its augment reality headset, but the video seems to depict a mysterious chip and fabric material, which is partially in line with the company’s past statements about the design direction.

The timeline also lines up with another leak, this one in 2018 from Brad Sams, editor at Thurrott.com. At the time, Sams suggested that the HoloLens 2 would drop as early as the first quarter of 2019, which is about to wind to a close. That timeframe lines up perfectly with MWC 2019.

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Designers use the HoloLens overlaid on a car model to experiment and fine-tune design details.

It’s unclear exactly how the HoloLens 2 will look compared to its predecessor, but they’re certainly getting a more powerful processor. The company announced the Holographic Processing Unit 2.0 (HPU 2.0) that would power its next-generation AR tech with a 2017 video. That could be the processor that Kipman’s video was showing off.

The HoloLens 2 is expected to improve on the past headsets’ bulkiness by making it more mobile than ever and even cut down on the original $3,000 price tag. It’s been said to be lighter, easier to wear, and offer better augmented reality displays.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is scheduled to begin his keynote address a day before MWC 2019 kicks off at the Fira Barcelona Gran Via trade center on February 24. The presentation will be live streamed on the company’ YouTube channel.

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The HoloLens 2 could be less bulky and more portable than ever.

The summary of the talk, however, doesn’t mention AR or VR outright. But it does state that Nadella will announce how Microsoft is working toward “transforming spatial understanding” and “visualizing insights” by leveraging A.I. and cloud computing. That sounds a lot like something to do with augmented reality to us, though he could be talking about an entirely unrelated piece of hardware or software.

As for why introduce the HoloLens at mobile focused conference? A key differentiator from many VR-headsets is that, with the HoloLens 2, cloud-based tech will eliminate the need to remain tethered to a computer or or hard drive, and make it more standalone like the Oculus Quest. A.I.-powered computer vision software could be used to seamlessly incorporate holograms throughout a user’s field of view.

MWC 2019 could be when Microsoft stands up to Magic Leap, though we won’t know for sure till Sunday.