First look: Build HoloLens apps with Unity

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Programming for Microsoft's holographic headset leverages familiar tools -- Visual Studio and the Unity 3D framework -- in very unfamiliar ways

Microsoft's HoloLens is an intriguing device that changes the relationship between user and user interface by mixing the real and the virtual. But in the 100 days or so since its launch, not much has been said about how we'll build apps for it.

That's all changed. Last week, at Microsoft's Build 2015 event, I had the chance to build my own HoloLens application. While the hands-on labs that Microsoft was holding in an offsite hotel were heavily scripted, they were using real development tools and, we were told, "near-final" hardware. Certainly the device I used was very different from the prototype rig I tried out at the launch back in January. Instead of a computer hung around my neck and a tether to a PC, the latest HoloLens prototypes are stand-alone devices that let me walk around freely.

There's still a lot of secrecy around HoloLens. No electronics were allowed in the room that had been set up with development workstations. Photographs were out of the question. All you could take in was a notebook and a pen; everything else had to be locked up in a rack of locker. It was like going back to school.

My hands-on session was relatively short, only 90 minutes, and much of the development I did was limited to placing objects on a Unity stage, attaching pre-ritten C# scripts to those objects, and adjusting object properties. Even so, it was possible to get a feel for how more complex applications could be built and, more important, to see how Microsoft was approaching the problems of bringing 1:1 scale 3D to developers and designers.

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