At the Computex 2016 show in Taipei, Microsoft announced that it will be opening up its Windows Holographic platform for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) partners to build mixed-reality hardware and accessories.
The announcement, which happened Wednesday, marks a definitive shift in Microsoft's approach to AR, VR, and mixed-reality technologies. While a lot of hype has been built around its flagship product, the HoloLens, Microsoft instead seems to be positioning itself as a platform provider that dabbles in hardware.
So far, Microsoft confirmed that it is working with Intel, AMD, Qualcomm, HTC, Acer, ASUS, CyberPowerPC, Dell, Falcon Northwest, HP, iBUYPOWER, Lenovo, MSI, and more on Windows Holographic. With this group of partners, and especially if it keeps growing, Microsoft could be able to quickly capture a large share of the burgeoning VR and AR market—something it failed to do in the mobile market.
SEE: What HoloLens means for Microsoft and for the future of augmented reality (TechRepublic)
However, this doesn't mean that there's no place for the HoloLens. This could play out like Google's approach to Nexus in that Microsoft maintains the "pure" Windows Holographic experience, and allows the other vendors to experiment and innovate. Or, as ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley puts it, HoloLens could be the category-defining experience, much like the Microsoft Surface series is for Windows (which Microsoft also alluded to in its blog post about the announcement).
Microsoft tends to bill Windows Holographic as the only mixed-reality platform. And, while mixed reality may indeed seem like a rebranding of AR at first, it is distinct in that it anchors realistic, holographic images (like those found in VR) to real-world objects. Typically, AR is more of an overlay of relevant information that saves you from looking at another device.
So, what all comes with being a Windows Holographic partner? According to the blog post, "it offers a holographic shell and interaction model, perception APIs, and Xbox Live services."
HoloLens was unveiled in January 2015 and began shipping in March 2016, but it's still rather elusive. Despite its potential applications, Microsoft has some challenges to face if it wants to become the de facto platform provider for the emerging AR and VR market, including developer relations.
But, if Microsoft can address these issues and provide a strong platform and ecosystem for its partners, then VR, AR, and mixed reality could end up providing real value as a growing business unit.
Still, this won't be an overnight transition to a rich vendor ecosystem. Microsoft is inviting developers and partners to join them at one of the Windows Hardware Engineering Community WinHEC conferences this coming fall in Shenzhen and Taipei, which means it will probably be 2017 before we see any emerging partner devices running on the platform.
The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers
- Microsoft opened its Windows Holographic platform to VR and AR partners to allow them to build hardware that takes advantage of the same system HoloLens is built on.
- This marks a shift in Microsoft's VR and AR strategy, as it embraces the role of platform provider while providing top-shelf experience in HoloLens—much like it did with Windows and the Surface line of laptops.
- There are a host of challenges facing Microsoft regarding this play, but if it mitigates those challenges, the Windows Holographic platform could provide a nice revenue stream for the company.
- Why virtual reality could finally mend its broken promise (TechRepublic)
- Microsoft HoloLens: What tech, business decision makers need to know (ZDNet)
- The tough questions of ethical content creation in VR (TechRepublic)
- Five ways augmented reality will transform your business (ZDNet)
- Mini-glossary: Virtual reality terms you should know (TechRepublic)
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.