October 19, 2017

Why Microsoft Should Cover the VR Ground?

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Since the announcement of HoloLens in Jan. 21st, augmented reality(AR) and virtual reality(VR) has been the talk in technology world. Since then many VR vendors have announced their plans. Many analysts believe the AR/VR is upon us starting this year, certainly next year.

Taking a closer look at the AR/VR play field, notice there are interesting patterns: 1. There are more players in VR. 2. VR products (or projects) are more mature, more ready for the market. They generally have real stuff to show the press, even some estimated release dates. AR are more quiet. There are fewer players, and most of them don’t have a solid time table for release. Some AR products, like the one from ODG, are already on sale, but those are very limited in functions, not full featured AR devices.

Many put HoloLens in AR category, I honestly hesitate to do that. HoloLens is certainly most advanced AR device to be released this year, but did Microsoft just missed the VR? Lets take a look.

Market wise, VR is more of niche. Because of nature of technology, the chance of the headset getting much smaller is low, I have wrote about this before. Its target users would likely be hardcore gamers, who value immersive-ness over the look and style. Unfortunately, that’s the main market for Xbox console. If Sony comes up with VR device that works with PS4. Valve/HTC come up with VR headset work with their game titles, Microsoft stands to loose hardcore gamers. I wouldn’t simply say, Microsoft don’t know or don’t understand this. I also wouldn’t say that Microsoft was caught by surprise, because Sony and other VR vendor’s VR plan are highly visible for a couple years now. The question remains: what is Microsoft’s plan for VR. Let me say it again, they can’t ignore it. They probably haven’t. So, what is it?

At the GDC 2015 early this month, Phil Spencer talked with Eurogamer.  When asked if Microsoft has locked itself out of VR, he replies,

I don’t think we’ve locked ourselves out, We’ve looked at a mixed reality space that we could do with Hololens and think about it as a unique set of features and technologies to enable, that doesn’t preclude us from doing anything in the VR space either from a first-party or partnership perspective. I’ve used Morpheus, I’ve used Oculus, I’m going to see more of the demos here.

I am trying to make sense out of his comments. This is probably the only time someone from Microsoft talks about VR and answers the exact question. Do I have an answer from that? Not really, but he did give us something to chew on. Microsoft develop a separate headset for VR is unlikely, and doesn’t make much sense. Partnership with VR headset makers is highly possible, but I wonder how that works with Windows Holographic framework. The third option is for HoloLens to cover VR functions instead of just AR. Microsoft have always called HoloLens and Windows Holographic mixed reality. I think it is possible that the strategic play lies in this. Technically, the only thing stop HoloLens from being a VR headset is its field of view. Field of view, from my understanding is mainly limited by processing power in the case of HoloLens, so that can change over time. I tend to think options 2 and 3 are both very likely. I think it’ll be clearer after the BUILD conference next month.