There have been many hardware and software developments over the past 18 months in the worlds of AR and VR. However, most of them solely existed only within the separate realms of AR or VR. Many within the industry, including I, eventually see VR and AR merging into some hybrid reality that fluidly moves between the two. Some companies call this concept “mixed” or “blended” reality and Microsoft appears to be heavily leading this notion. Microsoft created a new mixed reality platform called “Windows Holographic” which they announced in Taipei last week at Computex. I view this as yet another leadership move which puts “mixed reality” distance between them and their primary competition in this area, Apple and Google.
AR and VR are coming together
Mixed reality just makes sense when you think of it. The best VR experience with AR capabilities will enable you to have mixed experience home or work without bumping into things. Hypothetically in gaming, you could map your entire house to be a game level and play against real or imagined people and monsters. The best AR experience with VR capabilities will have extremely complex 3D objects to work with, not just these transparent and light ones today in AR. VR and AR are coming together and its just a matter of time. Google realizes this too. While Google hasn’t officially connected AR and VR, Google does show off Daylight scenarios with Tango to create mixed reality experiences.
Windows Holographic enables VR and AR users to collaborate together
Windows Holographic is designed to bring together the different hardware and software aspects of AR and VR and to combine them together under one platform. By allowing AR and VR devices to communicate well among one another, Microsoft wants to accelerate the pace of growth in mixed reality and the solutions that utilize it. The simplest way to think of it is to drive users by connecting separate VR and AR worlds. Microsoft is partnering with OEMs, ODMs and various hardware partners to build mixed reality devices and other hardware with the Windows Holographic platform. This move is Microsoft’s first major play to control the expanding AR and VR spaces before they outgrow Microsoft and their cur rent PC platforms.
Microsoft published a new video showing how AR and VR systems would work and suggest you watch it.
Microsoft needed to do more than just participate in VR
Until now, Microsoft was primarily the facilitator of things like PC VR through their Windows operating system and DirectX 12 low level graphics API. However, many would agree that this simply isn’t enough to genuinely be considered a player in the VR market. And even though nearly all of the new devices are shipping on Windows, Microsoft had very little hand in how the devices were made or used. This is because Microsoft behaved as more of a passive facilitator than an active contributor.
Mostly PC, one mobile SoC partner
With the announcement of Windows Holographic and its new partners, Microsoft is finally addressing multiple problems at the same time. By bringing in new hardware partners like Acer, Advanced Micro Devices, ASUS, Cyberpower, Dell, Falcon Northwest, HP, HTC, iBuypower, Lenovo, MSI and Qualcomm, Microsoft diversifies the potential hardware offerings for Windows Holographic beyond just HoloLens and truly opens the platform to VR and AR platform users. By having a single platform for all of these hardware partners, Microsoft is looking to do something that nobody else has done before, create a hardware agnostic mixed reality platform. Microsoft’s vision will enable VR and AR users to communicate, collaborate, entertain and learn with one another using Windows Holographic.
By offering Windows Holographic Microsoft is also exposing a definite set of APIs and hardware requirements for both AR and VR that haven’t quite existed. By working closely with their hardware partners, Microsoft will be able to ensure that developers and users never have to worry about a Windows Holographic device lagging because it is underpowered for either AR or VR. The industry has desperately needed something like Microsoft Holographic and for someone like Microsoft to deploy it with a series of major hardware partners.
Microsoft’s announcement of Windows Holographic expands the platform in multiple ways, by making it both an AR and VR platform and by extending Windows Holographic beyond Microsoft’s own hardware. As you can remember, when Microsoft tries to go it alone in a platform doing both hardware and software it generally doesn’t end well like Nokia. Microsoft’s decision to expand Windows Holographic beyond Hololens and AR in general really means big things for the company and the platform and gives Microsoft a real fighting chance in the impending platform wars we are bound to see from the big companies in either AR or VR. Until the lines of AR and VR blur into something that is truly mixed reality, platforms like Microsoft’s Windows Holographic are going to be critical in enabling new applications and use cases for both AR and VR.
As Microsoft did with their initial HoloLens announcement, they have moved up the competitive bar. Google isn’t publicly merging AR and VR yet and Apple hasn’t showed their hand yet.