HoloLens shell overview

With HoloLens, the shell is made up of the world around you and holograms from the system. We call this space the mixed world. The shell consists of a Start Menu which lets you select holograms and apps to place in your world. After an app has been placed in the world, it will appear either as a frame for a 2D app or as a 3D model. This asset will stay in that position even after you leave the room and come back, or turn off the device and back on. This is called hologram persistence. The assets placed in the world are used for launching apps.

Start Menu

Start Menu on Microsoft HoloLens

The Start Menu consists of:

  • System information (Wi-Fi status, battery status, current time, and volume)
  • A button to invoke Cortana
  • A view of Apps the user has chosen to Pin,
  • A view of All Apps on the system
  • Buttons to open the camera for mixed reality capture

Navigating between the pinned apps and all apps views is done by pressing the +/- buttons. The bloom gesture will summon the Start Menu. Blooming again will dismiss it.

Running apps from the shell

Windows Holographic launches apps holograms that you place in your world. The Start Menu is a catalog of the apps that you can place. The asset that you place will either be a 2D panel or a 3D model. After placement, the asset stays in place in your environments and can be used to launch the app henceforth. You can have multiple copies of the app launcher in your world. For example, the same app can be launched in different rooms of your house.

2D apps, created for desktop, mobile, or Xbox can be enhanced to use the HolographicSpace API and become holographic apps. When running an app in a holographic view, the launch points for other apps are hidden until you return to the shell via the bloom gesture.

2D apps arranged in the HoloLens shell

Apps can also be launched via an app-to-app API or via Cortana. When an app is launched from either the Start Menu or Cortana, the user will get to choose where to place the newly launched app.


When a user chooses an app tile from the Start Menu, the Start Menu is dismissed and the app enters placement mode.

Initial placement. The app will be automatically adjusted (in size and position) to conform to the real world in the direction of the user's gaze. When an app is placed, it will start running.

Adjustment. Users can go into adjustment mode by clicking the "Adjust" button on any app's app bar or saying, "Adjust". In adjustment mode, users can move, scale, and remove app tiles. 3D holograms can be rotated. Some 2D holograms support vertically resizing the app to show more content. When finished, click the 'Done' button on the app bar or say, "Done".

The store slate in Adjustment Mode (blue frame). Note the app bar (top) has changed to include 'Done' and 'Remove' buttons.

App bar

The app bar appears above the 2D view of an app. By default, it allows you to adjust and remove the 2D view. Different apps may add additional options, to the app bar. In the picture below, the Edge app has added the Scroll, Drag, and Zoom options to the center.

App bar for 2D apps running on HoloLens

Back Button. The Back button will navigate back to previously viewed screens in the app. It will stop when you reach the beginning of the experiences that have been shown in the app, and will not navigate to other apps.


Cortana is your personal assistant on HoloLens just like on desktop and phone. She can be used to perform various system tasks, such as launching apps, rebooting your device, or to look up information for you. Developers may also choose to integrate Cortana into their experiences.

Store, Settings, and system apps

HoloLens has a number of built-in apps, including:

  • Windows Store to acquire new apps
  • Windows Feedback to submit feedback about the system and system apps
  • Settings to configure system settings (including networking and system updates)
  • Microsoft Edge to browse websites
  • Photos to view and share photos and videos
  • Calibration for adjusting the HoloLens experience to the current user
  • Gestures for instructing HoloLens usage to new users
  • Holograms to decorate your world with holographic content

See also