Microsoft Wants to make Windows Mixed Reality a Reality for All
At an event in San Francisco on Tuesday, Kinect and HoloLens creator Alex Kipman shared Microsoft’s vision for Mixed Reality that will be unleashed starting Oct 17 with the Fall Creator Update and a set of Mixed Reality Headsets coming to market in time for the holidays.
Similar to his Ted Talk from 2016, Kipman talked about the power that Mixed Reality offers of expanding our capabilities and transcend time, space, and devices as we move away from a reality where we interact mainly with 2D computing experiences.
Wearing the new Samsung HMD Odyssey, Kipman teleported himself to the Cliff House – Microsoft Mixed Reality Home – to show what is possible today. The result felt a little like our current smart home experience: more a promise of what it will be than what it is today. You certainly need some vision as you think of what Mixed Reality can be for you. After all, balancing that futuristic view with something we can relate to today is the hardest challenge Mixed Reality, as well as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, face today. Games and entertainment are easy, but when it comes to convincing people that AR, VR, MR have a role to play in everyday computing it is hard to find what works because we are still working out what is possible. That said, I do not believe that Microsoft will be hindered by the current view of the world. Today’s Microsoft is not the same Microsoft that looked at the iPhone thinking that mobile computing will never be a thing. Maybe driven by self-preservation, the impetus behind Windows 10, 3D and Mixed Reality has been high and possibly since the PC era, the MR implementation in business might be a great advantage for Microsoft against Oculus.
The Modern Workplace
During the event, Kipman announced Microsoft’s acquisition of AltspaceVR. If you are not familiar with AltspaceVR, here is how they describe themselves: “one of the pioneers in immersive communications bringing people together in virtual reality from over 160 countries to attend meetups, comedy shows, yoga classes, dance parties, and large-scale events.” We have seen demos by Boeing and Ford using HoloLens before, but that mixed reality meeting on stage, which, as far as I know, was the first ever acquisition announcement in MR, was for me the best demonstration of the future workplace.
I have talked before about Millennials driving the digitalization of the workplace, but this will be nothing compared to what Gen Z will do to the workplace! While we, Gen X people, might still be complaining about Webex meetings using cameras, VR meetings like the ones AltspaceVR hosts will feel entirely natural for Gen Z.
Interestingly, when Kipman was asked what the killer app for MR is, his answer was somewhat unexpected as he mentioned communication as the killer experience. What is key, in both the commercial and consumer world, is that Mixed Reality allows you to pick the tools you want and, while the level of sophistication of the experience might differ depending on the device you are using, the core experience will not. This means that, depending on the need, businesses will be able to adopt a “mix and match” approach when it comes to devices: your engineers might be given HoleLens while marketing will have a Mixed Reality headset.
Communication not only matters in business. We can rush to judge today’s experience of avatars representing us as a futuristic version of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” where cartoons and real people come together. Yet, I think that the idea here is not to replace real human interactions with MR but to supplement them when location or time might prevent us from a face to face exchange. The way I think about it is similar to how I think about Facebook. It allows family and friends who live across the pond to somewhat be part of my life. What if that experience could be more than watching a video or seeing a picture? What if we could feel like we are all sitting around the table telling stories or playing a game while talking to each other. I am sure some of you think this is what video calls are for! And to some extent, they are. Yet, you rarely share an experience. Video calls are mostly adding a video to a voice call, they are enhancing your call experience, but they are not recreating it. If you think this is just semantics you never tried to read a bedtime story to your child over FaceTime while on the other side of the world. Now think about doing that while you can teleport yourself in the same room, on the same sofa cuddling with the same teddy bear. Do you still believe it is the same?
The Power of Samsung
The discussion of the role of Mixed Reality and the path that its development will take is fascinating, but devices still matter. So, it is no surprise that a lot of the attention at the event went to the new Samsung Odyssey. Having briefly tried the headset, I have to say that it is the closest thing to Oculus Rift I have tried minus the multiple cables and set up.
The Samsung Odyssey matters for multiple reasons.
It gives Microsoft a brand that consumers trust when it comes to VR. Yes, the Gear VR experience is nowhere near a true VR experience due to the limitations of the computing power of a phone, but consumers trust Samsung to be capable of delivering such an experience.
Samsung’s continued push into the enterprise market could also benefit Microsoft when it comes to Mixed Reality. While enterprises know and trust the PC manufacturers that already have announced Mixed Reality headsets, they also trust Samsung when it comes to mobile, so I am curious to see how the Microsoft Samsung collaboration will develop.
Content remains King
While we wait for the futuristic vision of Mixed Reality to be delivered, we continue to count on content like games and entertainment to attract buyers. It seems to me that Microsoft has learned from mobile and has been focusing on content from the get-go. It has done that through original content like Halo Recruit to opening the Windows Mixed Reality SteamVR preview to developers to help them test their games.
When all is said and done though, Mixed Reality is VR, and if you are unconvinced by VR, you will be unconvinced by Mixed Reality.