A glimpse to the future: Why Microsoft’s HoloLens will spur fundamental change for society and how marketers will become 'hackers'

Anyone not yet familiar with HoloLens may regard it initially as Microsoft’s answer to Google Glass or Facebook-owned Oculus Rift. But it actually brings something altogether different to the table and could be the bit of kit that catapults hologram technology into the marketing mainstream.

Last week at Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity Microsoft was running some rather clandestine (albeit badly concealed) demos of HoloLens at its beach house. Although there was initial disappointment at not being able to take photos (hence apologies for no original pics for this piece) or videos of the demos to share online that did not detract from the extraordinariness of the experience.

For those who have yet to try the product, once the headset is fastened (see below image), an interface appears with a host of different options. You can make commands either by gesture or voice, and some of the features include being able to pin 3D holograms you create to real-world objects.

This could be anything from a TV app, which you can pin to the wall, or a Skype app so you can continue talking to someone by pinning the app to wherever you are in the house. You could also use it to have a go at a bit of interior design - and project 3D holograms of paintings or bathroom fittings or anything you would like to test out in a physical environment.

Even more fascinating is the ability to expand 3D creations to life size – meaning you can actually create, tweak and shape 3D worlds from within the environment itself - a dream for any designer or person working with a creative remit, and far beyond the gimmicky nature AR and VR technologies have been associated with to date.

You can change the direction, shape, size, colour of objects you create all around you in 3D. The demo being shown was a sea landscape, but there are numerous more examples of where this could work.

The Drum caught up with Microsoft’s technical evangelist James Whittaker in Cannes, who spoke on a range of topics, including how easy it was to connect his hot tub to the internet of things (IoT), his thwarted attempts at hunting down a decent beer in Cannes – land of the ever-flowing and horribly overpriced rose –and why future marketers will have to evolve to become "hackers" in the IoT-driven landscape.

He described HoloLens as a product designed for society’s future, and with its ability to overlay holograms onto the real world – will create a “powerful paradigm” that will fundamentally change everything from gaming, business, education, health, retail, travel markets – and beyond. Just this week reports have already emerged that NASA will be using HoloLens tech and that UK police are trialling it for crime scene analysis.

And of course as the size of the hardware becomes smaller with future iterations its potential to sit at the intersection of advertising and the kind of brand experiences that will be expected in an IoT environment.

Whittaker said: “The screen we all know and love – that’s going away completely. We won’t be carrying devices around much longer. With regards HoloLens - anything that has the potential to replace the devices we are currently using on a day-to-day basis has to be seen as the future. So people who don’t take it seriously are risking it being the future and falling being behind, and it’s not a good thing to be behind a technology curve.”

“It wasn’t very difficult to put my hot tub on the internet of things. Right now it [IoT] is working on simple things like thermostats, but it will be once the really complicated devices start getting put on there that it will become really interesting.

"And that’s where advertising will change fundamentally because you can’t market to machines – the hot tubs are going to figure out what the best deals on chemicals are. Fridges will talk to each other to find out where their lettuce or beef is sourced.”

This means marketers will have to overhaul how they communicate with consumers, with more onus placed on bettering their products – something machines can detect – than on appealing to people via advertising.

“Humans are easy to influence – you can show them an ad of puppies and they will say I will buy that detergent because I love cute puppies. Machines don’t love puppies."

"Marketers will have to figure all this out and become a lot more creative. It turns marketers more into hackers. These machines aren’t going to lie – if you ask the hot tubs they will tell you the formula. I don’t why I would buy a specific [cleaning] chemical now, and if marketers knew that they would love it because then they would know the formula. So I think the marketer is going to enjoy the challenge – then they get to decide how to hack it,” added Whittaker.

Meanwhile he was dismissive of Google Glass, describing i as a "voyeur" device, which was intended for every-day use, essentially making it a spy camera. "No one really took Google Glass seriously. There may have been a writer here and there saying it will change the world, but people who really understood technology scoffed at that. And now of course it’s gone," he said.