Microsoft Placing Its Bet On ‘Mixed Reality’

The big takeaway from the Computex IT Trade Show in Taipei this week is that all the big players are moving into virtual reality (VR). Floor after floor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel has been filled with opportunities for guests to experience VR on the latest headsets and accompanying devices, some of which will hit store shelves in the next six months.

Everyone is fascinated with the prospect of putting on headsets and moving into a virtual gaming or extreme sports world. It’s just fun. But beyond the gaming application, what can VR bring to the larger world of business, education, medicine, and more? Microsoft says that application will be to merge the real and virtual worlds in an augmented reality (AR) platform now being called “mixed reality.”

And Microsoft spent its time at the trade show demonstrating to other hardware makers just how its Windows 10 platform can do just that.

Microsoft Explains The Future Of Mixed Reality

Yesterday, during a keynote address, a group of Microsoft executives presented Windows Holographic, a new operating system within Windows 10 that will be the leader in the technology of mixed reality, they claim.

Terry Myerson, Vice-President for Windows and Devices Group, had this to say in a blog post later that day.

“Today we focused on the next frontier – mixed reality. Providing devices with the ability to perceive the world, breaking down the barriers between virtual and physical reality, is what we call mixed reality….Imagine wearing a VR device and seeing your physical hands as you manipulate an object working on the scanned 3-D image of a real object, or bringing in a holographic representation of another person into your virtual world so you can collaborate.”

The big difference between VR and AR, or mixed reality, is that VR immerses the user in a totally virtual world, while mixed reality places a user in a virtual world but with the ability to interact and overlay “pieces” of the real world within it. Microsoft is betting that this is where the business and commercial uses will be found, while strict VR will remain the venue for entertainment.

Making Things Easy For The Competition

Microsoft has developed its own augmented reality headset, the Hololens, to be used on its new platform. But, it has gone beyond that. Windows Holographic, according to Microsoft execs, has been built to accommodate the headset devices that are currently in use or being developed by other device manufacturers.

While Microsoft is already collaborating with companies like Intel, Qualcomm, Acer, and Lenovo for their adoption of its Hololens, it is also sending Hololens kits to a number of cross industries. Last year, it teamed up with Volvo to bring Windows Holographic and the Halogens to car trade shows.

Beyond that, however, Microsoft is looking to head off the development of other platforms that would be competition. It clearly wants a “corner on the market” of augmented reality and wants its software platform to become the “gold standard” just as its Windows operating system has become. That’s where the money really is.

To fend off future competition, Microsoft had ensured that its Windows Holographic will be compatible with all rival headsets and platforms — a smart move indeed.

What’s Next?

The concept is much like a universal remote that can be programmed to work on any television. Windows 10 is currently running on about 300 million devices, and Microsoft predicts that there will be about 80 million VR devices in use by 2020.

But as reported by the Seattle Times in its coverage of the trade show, Executive Vice-President Terry Myerson stated, “[M]any of today’s devices ad experiences do not work with each other, provide different user interfaces, interaction models, input methods, peripherals and content…and most virtual-reality experiences can’t mix real people, objects and environments into the virtual world, making creation and collaboration difficult.”

So, Microsoft’s goal is to make its platform the single best to mesh all VR and AR devices and technologies developed by anyone else. Who wouldn’t want the universal option?

Embracing VR And AR – It’s A Large Demographic

Older generations may not “get” mixed reality and may not see the grand possibilities. Young people, however, do “get” it. Already, they have embraced VR for their gaming and entertainment needs. Now they are seeing the possibilities for commercial use as they move into careers and business leadership.

And for those young people still in school? The use of VR and mixed reality as learning tools may provide almost limitless possibilities.

Microsoft has clearly put its horse in the race, and so far, it is rounding the track in first place.

[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]