HP Expands into Extended Reality, Launches xRServices
Builds print-centered mixed reality solution
Today, HP announced what it called the “first print-industry mixed reality service”, dubbed HP xRServices. The move marks a continued investment in extended reality (XR), as HP already has a virtual reality (VR) hardware line: the HP Reverb series of headsets. That said, there is no first-person hardware this time as HP xRServices is designed to work with Microsoft Hololens 2, an industry-leading augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) headset that is often used in business applications.
HP xRServices, rather than being hardware, is a software solution designed to work specifically with the Microsoft Hololens 2 to empower higher levels of productivity, more advanced levels of remote collaboration, and greater availability when it comes to support. Yet, while HP is technically right to call this a first for the print industry, this type of XR solution isn’t exactly new.
How HP xRServices is Tailored to the Print Industry
In its press release, HP highlighted three main advantages from its xRServices solution, notably:
- A reduction in necessary travel (and travel expenses)
- Higher levels of support (for clients)
- Reduced employee onboarding times
So, let’s break this down. For those new to these types of solutions, HP xRServices is largely a remote collaboration and support platform. The user—wearing a Hololens 2 headset—looks at a (potentially) broken HP print device. They then call in an expert virtually, who appears in their headset view. This expert can see everything the caller can, allowing them to provide relevant real time guidance in performing the task. The result is shortened downtime and less reduction in revenue. No expert needs to be called in, and the service can be accomplished right then and there (provided the caller has the appropriate tools on hand).
What exactly makes this tailored to the print industry? Well, anyone calling in through the HP xRServices solution will be connected to a virtual HP engineer, meaning they will have instant access to print industry-relevant expertise. In addition, HP xRServices works with HP’s Print OSx, meaning a manager can view transactional data in conjunction with the information gathered from performing whatever task was required. This analysis can be used to plot new optimization pathways, showing employers and decision makers where weak points exist in the workflow and providing external insight into how said problems may be fixed or adjusted.
|A worker wearing a Hololens 2 talks with a remote expert
while conducting a hardware inspection.
How HP xRServices Tackles the Skilled Worker Shortage
I wanted to break out the last bullet point because it is a chief element of the argument for XR applications in the business setting. I’ve already written about how AR can be used to democratize specialized knowledge, but it bears repeating. Research has already shown that many older employees retired unexpectedly in 2020, and new information shows that the rate hasn’t slowed down in 2021 (at least not by Q3). This departure represents a sudden and expensive loss in knowledge, skill, and experience. Employee turnover is one of the least-discussed, costliest drains on a company’s revenue and productivity. Estimations done by Gallup conclude that replacing the average employee can cost anywhere from a half to twice their annual salary, and they note this number is on the conservative side.
Training is an expensive and time-consuming process, and there are few guarantees that it will always work with the same rate of effectiveness. If you put 20 people in a room and lecture them for two hours, odds are each attendee will come away with different amounts of learned information. And this gets more complicated when the information is a step-by-step guide to operating and maintaining sophisticated print hardware. Communication over the phone isn’t much better as anyone who has ever tried or had to talk someone through IT issues by phone will attest to the medium’s limitations.
By utilizing XR and creating an experience where the user gets consistent, real-time feedback from a virtual expert, HP xRServices provides an effective educational tool that does not require nearly the same resource allocation that traditional methods demanded. It’s not unique in this regard, but still it is a positive well worth mentioning.
Epson Moverio and Other Alternative Solutions
While HP and Microsoft are on an intriguing partnership, I can think of a few solutions providers who may take issue with HP claiming this as “an industry first” solution. One competitor that has also been in this space for a while is Epson. Epson has been manufacturing enterprise-centric AR glasses since 2011, with its Moverio product line. The product has made enormous strides in 10 years, and now Epson markets the hardware as part of a larger solution—one that has use cases very similar to those touted by HP xRServices. Similarly, hardware agnostic remote collaboration and support also comes from PTC (with a focus on the industrial space) and Konica Minolta with its AIRe Link visual support tool.
I don’t bring this up to take the wind from HP’s sails. I am genuinely excited about their continued investment in this space and I am sure they have created a quality product that will be supported and improved over time. These competitors are highlighted to stress a truth: This is where we’re going. Yeah, XR failed to blow up in 2016, but the technology has only been moving forward in the last 5 years.
The pandemic has accelerated the need for remote workflow solutions. It has also exacerbated the skilled worker shortage in many industries. XR solutions, such as HP xRServices represent a natural evolution, one that looks not to rebuild to a pre-pandemic normal but to advance into the next phase of working, one that is not bound by physical location. It will be an essential component of the hybrid workplace and key even to the print industry (XR is, among other things, a document capture technology, same as the smartphone).
HP may not be as innovative as its press release claims, but the company is still a leader. Its investments in XR should be challenged, or else it may likely pull away from its competition in this regard.
Oh, and just to mention since this term is everywhere now—no, HP xRSeries is not a metaverse.
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