Microsoft updates HoloLens and Windows Holographic to work better with 'flat' apps

Everyday, 2D software applications are still the reality for most users, whether on HoloLens or a traditional display.

hololens multiple flat apps

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When you think “Microsoft HoloLens,” you probably think of CGI robots bursting through walls and animated squirrels running around. But Microsoft’s latest update to Windows Holographic reminds you that so-called 'flat' or '2D' apps—in other words, the traditional apps we already use—will be a critical part of the platform, too.

Microsoft’s Windows Holographic May 2016 Update includes support for three flat apps that can be pinned next to each other, much like you can place three apps across multiple monitors in the real world. The release notes also detail improvements to the voice controls and the Cortana interface.

When I used the HoloLens developer edition a few months ago, I quickly discovered that apps like HoloTour for mapping place one giant view in front of your eyeballs, which gives an ordinary, 2D visual experience an immersive feel. But they dominate your perspective, which makes them less useful when switching from app to app.

Why this matters: Browsing a virtual Web site with Microsoft Edge isn’t the thing that’s going to sell a HoloLens, especially when you discover that the resolution isn’t quite as detailed as it is on the monitor or phone you’re sitting in front of right now. But recall that Microsoft’s demos have included pinning weather apps to various objects, or sitting down and watching the game on a “big-screen” display. So-called “2D apps” are still the way we interact with the world. It all comes together in products that combine the real world with augmented screens, like the 8ninths HoloLens desk

Flat apps become more useful

In that vein, Microsoft has updated the way in which users will interact with apps like Edge, which now shares the unified experience with Edge on other Windows 10 platforms. (Unfortunately, “unified experience” means the ability to open new tab instances and windows, a new tab page, and tab peek—not shared bookmarks, extensions, or other useful tools.)

Microsoft also smoothed out some kinks in the multimedia experience. If you're watching video, HoloLens will automatically hide the “holobar” nav bar and cursor, so as not to distract you. If you store video within the Photos app, it will stream it, rather than requiring that video to be downloaded first. Microsoft’s Groove Music app has also been added, for background music playing. 

Navigating within the Windows Holographic environment is still a little clunky. Users must look at an object, air-click it, then drag it around in virtual space. (Microsoft has a dedicated hardware clicker that you can use instead, and the update adds support for a Bluetooth mouse to navigate 2D apps more easily.) 

hololens rotate holograms Microsoft

HoloLens holograms can now be rotated by using Cortana voice commands.

With the new May update, users can more easily navigate through virtual space by using the Cortana virtual assistant and Microsoft’s new commands:

  • Looking at a hologram and rotate it by saying “Face me”
  • Changing its size by saying “Bigger” / “Smaller”
  • Moving an app by saying “Hey Cortana, move [App Name] here."

Microsoft said it will provide the new version of Windows 10 Holographic in much the same way you receive Windows 10 updates: through the updates section of the Settings. Currently, HoloLens is available to developers only; the company hasn’t released a formal timetable for when it will release a version for consumers.

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