Try out the HoloKit X if you need further proof that Apple is developing a mixed-reality headset. This headset was developed by Botao Amber Hu, a developer who previously held positions at DJI, Google, and Twitter and is currently the CEO and creator of Holo Interactive. It completely utilises the iPhone’s built-in capabilities to produce interactive, hands-free augmented reality experiences. It’s a potent demonstration of what would be possible if Apple ever produced a headset utilising the technology present in its smartphone.
Any such headset that would be produced in Cupertino would almost probably cost more than $1,000. (After all, this is Apple.) Take a look at the $1,499 price of Meta’s most recent mixed-reality headgear as an example. The price of headsets for Microsoft’s XR platform ranges from $600 to $1,000. The HoloKit X was created as a result of these high costs. Hu, who has a long-standing passion for emerging technologies and new media art, claims he wants to “democratise” the mixed reality space. As a result, the HoloKit X costs $129 and may be used with any recent iPhone (with the exception of the iPhone Mini and iPhone SE models).
A Headphone with an iPhone
The HoloKit X is a cheap-looking headset with internal optical lenses. No technology is present (save for an NFC sensor, but more on that later). Just imagine it as a viewer, similar to a View-Master from the past. You must mount an iPhone onto the HoloKit X, just like with mobile virtual reality headsets like Google Cardboard, Lenovo’s AR set for Star Wars games, or the long-gone Google Daydream.
In contrast to VR headgear, you are not fixed to a screen. The iPhone is mounted high and out of sight. Instead, you are gazing through the glass in a 60-degree field of view, allowing you to see both the surrounding objects and people. The iPhone’s screen, which uses the back cameras to control these augmented reality activities, is mirrored in stereoscopic vision to the lenses, allowing you to see virtual 3D things that have been seamlessly integrated into the actual world.
There are now restrictions on what you can do with the HoloKit X. The HoloKit app only contains a small number of experiences, or “Realities,” one of which is a multiplayer duelling game in which you can cast spells at an opponent. With the help of Apple’s ARKit framework, the platform supports six degrees of freedom and offers bright, vibrant, and reasonably sharp images. As a result, you can move about virtual things and they will remain rooted in the locations you place them in reality. Additionally, you can even duck to avoid blasts when you’re playing a game. A virtual character, a real-world person, or even a person using only an iPhone to operate a character can all be considered the “enemy” while utilising a HoloKit X in a shared environment.
The HoloKit app makes use of current technologies because it is totally driven by an iPhone. For instance, playing games with other HoloKit X users doesn’t require Wi-Fi or cellular data; instead, it uses the local networking technology that underlies AirDrop. Additionally, this fuels “Spectator Observe, “which enables anyone to view your augmented reality experience in real time by pointing their phone at the scene while using an iPhone and the HoloKit app. (You may record this and upload it to social media or use AirPlay to cast it to a TV so others can see it.) Hu claims that Holo Interactive is also developing a puppeteer mode that will let another person control your augmented reality (AR) experience.
The augmented reality experience can be accessed in a few different ways. The HoloKit app recognises and tracks your hand using Apple’s Vision foundation technology. The idea is that you can interact with objects simply by using your hands, and the iPhone’s cameras will detect your hand movements. I didn’t see a demonstration of this, though. Hu claims that every Bluetooth-capable iPhone accessory, including PlayStation controllers, is likewise supported by HoloKit.
I did shown how the gyroscope on an Apple Watch may be used as a motion controller, similar to a Wiimote. Hu gave me a wand and put an Apple Watch to my wrist (it works with Watch Series 4 and newer), running the HoloKit watch app just so I could feel like I was casting magic with it. I was surprised to discover that I could cast spells with just a few motions or a flick of the wrist. I could even use my wand to load a charging bar and cast a stronger spell by pointing it downward. By using any of Apple’s headphones that support spatial audio, you can hear a spell fly by your right ear, enhancing the realism. The iPhone’s haptic vibration offers an additional layer of sensory information, however you might not notice it right away because the phone is only vibrating up near your forehead because it is mounted in the headset.
The HoloKit X is compatible with the iPhone XS, XS Max, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max. It also works with the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max. (In order for it to fit, you’ll need to remove your case.) The iPhone with a lidar sensor, which became standard on Pro models—starting with the iPhone 12 series—will provide you the best experience.
Although the duelling app does not make use of the lidar sensor, there is another augmented reality (AR) application that shows virtual items occupying space and interacting with real-world objects and people. The Neural Engine in the iPhone’s processors aids in object and people detection, while the lidar sensor helps the phone and app recognise your surroundings.
The level of wearability comfort of HoloKit X is quite outstanding. It even has a visor-like appearance that is pretty attractive. I was more impressed that the headset didn’t at all interfere with my eyeglasses than with the fact that the plush band you can tighten over your head to keep it secure is interchangeable. If the entire thing had a splash of colour, I might have thought it was a futuristic device from Cowboy Bebop. Only an NFC sensor, which Hu claims can be used to track anonymous data such as which device is in the headset and which AR apps were most frequently used, is included in the headset.
Garden of Holo
Although the HoloKit app is still very much in a controlled beta, the hardware is finished. You may purchase a headset right away, but you’ll only have access to the HoloKit app’s TestFlight version. According to Hu, his team (which consists of about 10 people) plans to debut the app in the App Store by the end of November with more Realities. The key is creating the proper Realities.
Hu claims that StAR’s “killer app” has not yet been created. “But for what is everyone waiting for Apple or Meta? No one is discussing the software; everyone is discussing the hardware. Everyone is discussing the productization of labourers or the armament of warriors. That is not what we see as the future. People talk about getting notifications on their faces, but we already have the Apple Watch for that.
Hu claims that for the time being, his business won’t be providing a software development kit. Instead, the first Realities will be created by his team of software specialists, who have experience in content creation and new media. This is especially true because they’re utilising so many cutting-edge technologies that it’s challenging to teach other developers how to use them. Hu has a vision of what his “RealVerse” will look like, which is another reason. I made HoloKit for what purpose? I’m a creative. I created HoloKit so that everyone can share my dream because I had a dream similar to it. Hu anticipates that Holo Interactive will make HoloKit available as open source software when the market and technology are more developed.
The platform will continue to rely largely on alliances and teamwork. You can visit the Web3 Gallery in New York City, where Holo Interactive has already partnered with them, and try out the HoloKit X there. NFTs and avatars will eventually manifest in the physical world.
A large portion of HoloKit gives off the impression that it was created to be installed in museums and venues like the Web3 Gallery, allowing marketers and creatives alike to present their work in mixed reality and participate in the discourse of the metaverse. Hu, though, also wants a community to exist. Because of this, using Spectator Mode to view and share someone else’s HoloKit X experience is extremely simple.
However, HoloKit will not function for Android users, who make up a significant portion of the market. Hu claims that every product the team has created depends on particular iPhone technologies, such as lidar, which has not yet been introduced on an Android phone. Hu asserts that in order for AR to work, hardware, software, and silicon must all cooperate, a feat that Google has only recently accomplished. He refers to the technology that enables you to develop mixed-reality experiences accessible through a browser and says, “We won’t support Android until WebXR gets mature.