If Microsoft has its way reality won't be virtual or augmented, it'll be mixed. Whereas virtual reality (VR) creates entirely computer-generated environments and augmented reality (AR) overlays computer-generated imagery onto the real world, mixed reality (MR), a term dating all the way back to a 1994 whitepaper based on research conducted at the University of Toronto and the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan, seeks to blend the physical and digital worlds together. In a design setting for example, imagine being able to use a real screwdriver to make adjustments to a virtual product design, or being able to overlay virtual additions and adjustments onto a physical prototype and you start to get the idea.
With so many competitors ranging from Google, HTC, and Facebook-owned Oculus already tackling VR and AR from all sides, Microsoft is introducing a new strategy to position itself as a key player in bringing these technologies into the enterprise and consumer space. At its Build conference earlier this month Microsoft announced it would begin taking preorders on Mixed Reality Development Kits targeted at letting OEMs develop their own MR headsets. This all comes in conjunction with MR capabilities already built into Windows 10 as well as Microsoft's already available HoloLens AR headset that has been specifically targeted at enterprise. The first of these MR head-mounted displays (HMDs), is being developed by Acer.
“We're really creating an ecosystem and it's not dissimilar to how people use computers today,” Greg Sullivan, Director of Communications for Windows and Devices at Microsoft, told Design News. In essence, Microsoft wants to make VR and AR tools as commonplace for enterprise users as a keyboard or mouse.
During his keynote at the Build conference, Alex Kipman, Technical Fellow of the Operating System Group at Microsoft, and the man credited with inventing the HoloLens, said mixed reality should completely replace VR and AR in the cultural lexicon. “[VR and AR] are not separate concepts. These are just labels for different points on the mixed reality continuum,” Kipman told the audience. “This is why, to simplify things, we call all of it 'Windows Mixed Reality.' ”
In addition to Acer, Microsoft has already announced deals with big-name computer hardware manufactures including Lenovo, Dell, and HP. And if the company's gambit succeeds Microsoft could leapfrog it's competitors, particularly in the enterprise space where the HoloLens has a firm hold but is perhaps being held back by its steep $3,000 price point.
|Acer's Mixed Reality headset is the first unveiled product developed using Microsoft's Mixed Reality platform. (Image source: Microsoft)|
“The cost piece is something we've worked hard to address, Sullivan told Design News. “It is true today to have an immersive experience you need a headset that is not exactly an impulse purchase and a really powerful PC.”
Sullivan said that Microsoft is looking at HoloLens as a cornerstone for the experience it wants to deliver, but at a more affordable cost. Without any major products on the market yet it has already become clear that the next step for VR, AR, MR, or whatever you'd like