This week, Microsoft made some expected Windows and unexpected Surface Book announcements. The company chose not to hold a big event this year as they did last year in New York City, (which I wrote about here), instead opting for a lower key, press releases, blogs, and one-on-one interviews. I do not take that as a sign Microsoft is less than enthused; I think it is that Microsoft has had some large shows lately where the company disclosed much of the Windows news. For instance, Microsoft announced the Fall Creators Update at Build 2017 and I wrote about it here. The company announced today it would commence shipments of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update I wanted to give my rundown and opinion. I am writing up a separate post on the new additions to the Surface Book
Opening up mixed reality to more users
One of the primary goals of this year’s Fall Creators Update was to ‘democratize”, or put in the hands of more people, mixed reality. Microsoft led the industry with HoloLens, which I consider AR, but Microsoft had not fully engaged in VR, not even on Xbox, until now. Microsoft announced today (alongside its partners, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, and Acer) the official launch of the first Windows Mixed Reality Headsets. While Microsoft discussed the headsets many times before, now customers can order them, except Samsung.
Microsoft is lauding the new headsets as the “the only headsets that don’t require you to drill holes into your walls,” a notable differentiator between past headsets like the HTC Vive that required mounted sensors placed at seven feet in the house for immersive experiences. To be fair, Oculus Rift does not require you to drill holes in the wall but does require two to three positional sensors to be placed on tables in front and back of the user. Rift is still a pain to setup, but you are moving furniture, not drilling holes. I have both Rift and Vive, and the trackers are a pain unless you have a dedicated room and space for VR.
The new headsets are starting at a relatively affordable $399, and come with motion controllers.
Another announcement in the realm of mixed reality was the new Mixed Reality Viewer, which uses the computers’ built-in cameras to enable mixed reality experiences on PCs. Any 3D objects users create with Paint 3D, or acquire from the Remix 3D catalog can now be used within the Mixed Reality Viewer—pretty neat if you ask me. Mixed Reality Viewer also enables the usage of 3D objects within Microsoft Office. These are nice additions to the 3D capabilities Microsoft introduced with last year’s Creators Update. Bringing 3D creation to the masses is not an easy task to undertake, but Microsoft is continuing to make some good strides here. Between HoloLens and Windows 10 MR for “everyone,” I believe Microsoft has demonstrated a tremendous amount of industry leadership in mixed reality. My most significant remaining concern in this area along with content density is the lack of a perfected visual experience at any price, one with much higher levels of resolution. The industry needs a perfected 3K-4K per eye experience. Without this, I believe Microsoft has opened themselves up to attack from Apple.
Updated Photos and gaming features
With this year’s update also comes a reimagining of Microsoft’s Photos app. Microsoft wants to enable users to turn their “photos into memories” by modifying them with 3D effects, ink, transitions, and video. The new Creators Update also is introducing new Inking capabilities, such as allowing users to ink directly on PDFs and assisting absent-minded users with a Find My Pen feature. I use Photos every single day and like it more and more every day, but it will take a lot to separate me from Google Photos. The 3D Story Remix features could do this, but I need more hands-on time as those features have not been out for long.
On a different note, this past May, Microsoft rebranded Beam (its interactive, live-streaming service for gaming) as “Mixer.” For those not in the know, live-streaming of gaming has become very popular in recent years—to the extent that it is estimated that more people are watching other people game than gaming themselves. My son is addicted to using NVIDIA’s streaming tools, and I will be interested to see what he uses going forward.
Microsoft announced several improvements and updates to Mixer—quicker launch and access to game streams, as well as a new “Game Mode,” which will let users dedicate more of their PC’s power towards games. AMD had this kind of feature years ago with its platform tools, but I like that this capability is embedded in the operating system itself and supported by Microsoft. Game Mode shuts off all unnecessary features that don’t add to the gaming experience, like indexing. All of this gaming goodness comes in advance of the upcoming launch of Xbox One X on Nov. 7th, which Microsoft says will be “the world’s most powerful console built for true 4K gaming.”
I have been using the Fall Creators Update for months via the Windows Insider Program. I will say that while I have enjoyed the flashy, new MR and Photos features, the thing I have been enjoying the most is the “Continue On Your PC” feature, which creates a more seamless Windows experience across devices through Cortana and Office 365. I would go back and forth between my Samsung Galaxy Note8, Apple iPhone, and Windows PC and the next device would alert me via Cortana to what I was doing so I could continue it.
For the upcoming holiday selling season, I believe Microsoft is well-positioned with enough new features to get consumers excited to buy new Windows 10 PCs and the platform.