Microsoft Outlook Makes Its Augmented-Reality Debut on HoloLens

Users can now check their Outlook inboxes and calendars without peeling their eyes away from their augmented-reality surroundings.

Microsoft HoloLens

Even in augmented reality, there's no escaping email.

Microsoft has released its first "holographic" email and calendar apps for HoloLens, the company's Windows 10-powered augmented-reality headset. The device, currently available to developers with $3,000 to spare, can run applications that overlay 3D objects on a user's physical environment.

Now, with the new Outlook Mail and Calendar apps for HoloLens, users can splash their inboxes and event calendars on a wall or other surface.

"With Outlook Mail on HoloLens, you can now place your inbox on your office wall to stay on top of emails while simultaneously interacting with other digital content in your real world," wrote the Microsoft Office team in a blog post. "You can also quickly see what's coming up next in your day with your new wall calendar."

The Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps essentially display streamlined versions of the inbox and calendar views in the Outlook PC and mobile clients. In this case, they appear to float in mid-air. Users can customize the view with an accent graphic, which appears as a 3D rendition of the Seattle skyline in screenshots that accompany the blog.

HoloLens is Microsoft's stab at the burgeoning market for augmented- and virtual-reality devices.

In April, Strategy Analytics forecast that the market for VR devices will generate $895 million in revenue this year. High-end devices like the Oculus Rift (owned by Facebook), Sony PlayStation VR and the HTC Vive are expected to account for 77 percent of that revenue while lower-priced devices that work with smartphones will bring in the rest. All told, the analyst firm expects sales of 12.8 million VR headsets in 2016, of which only 13 percent qualify as high-priced devices.

Instead of completely immersing users in virtual worlds like the Oculus Rift and its rivals, HoloLens uses a wearer's existing surroundings as a basis on which to build so called "mixed-reality" experiences. The hardware is capable of projecting 3D images on its transparent visor, some of which give the illusion of interacting with physical surfaces.

For example, early demos have shown users Skype video calls that float within a user's field of view, allowing them to conduct guided repairs. Last year, Microsoft demonstrated a version of Minecraft, the popular sandbox game acquired by Microsoft in 2014 for $2.5 billion, anchored to a physical table top. Beyond those uses, Microsoft expects enterprises to scoop up HoloLens for its potential to serve as an advanced collaboration platform and help businesses add a new, more engaging dimension to their 3D modeling and design projects.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has been busy expanding on the HoloLens' capabilities. The company released its first major Windows Holographic software update on May 31, announced Microsoft technical fellow Alex Kipman.

The update adds multitasking support as well as the ability to connect a Bluetooth mouse to HoloLens. Additionally, the headset's "clicker" accessory can now be used to move and resize holograms. Along with a smattering of new voice commands, the update also adds tabs to the Edge Web browser and enables pictures from the Photos app to display without borders.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...