Effective marketing will be key to Microsoft's Windows Mixed Reality success

HoloLens creator Alex Kipman introduced the device's ability to overlay holograms onto the real world in the wearer's field of view. This mix of digital content and the physical world, called augmented reality (AR), represents one extreme of the mixed reality continuum.

Virtual Reality (VR) is the other extreme where users are immersed in a virtual environment which completely excludes the real world. Windows Mixed Reality, as part of Window 10, is designed to power both of these experiences on first- and third-party AR and VR headsets.

"(AR and VR) are just labels for different points on the mixed reality continuum." - Alex Kipman.

Kipman shared that because Windows Mixed Reality APIs are part of Windows 10, developers can make Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps that work on HoloLens as well as other Windows 10 devices. Microsoft's vision to become the industry's leader for holographic computing by providing the platform for developers and device makers was obvious even then.

Microsoft's industry-leading position and goal to bring holographic computing to the masses is old news to tech enthusiasts. The problem, however, is that that news hasn't yet become news to regular consumers. This lack of mindshare is ironic given that Microsoft intentionally made Windows 10, which now has over 500 million users, the platform for mixed reality. Sadly, the 3D and mixed reality capabilities integrated within millions of PCs remain unknown to most consumers. Meanwhile, rivals are grabbing consumer attention with their AR and VR alternatives.

This is how they do it

Google Cardboard is that company's affordable VR solution for consumers and students. The wildly popular game Pokemon Go mainstreamed AR for millions of Android and iPhone users last year. And Apple's new ARKit, part of iOS 11, brings AR to iPhone and iPad users beginning this year.

Apple demonstrating AR in iOS 11 at WWDC 2017.

Regular consumers have no clue Microsoft is leading the industry's mixed reality advancements with HoloLens and third-party headsets that support Windows Mixed Reality. If Microsoft doesn't capture consumer mindshare soon, its rivals will. Microsoft may then find its lead overtaken as consumers, and subsequently, developers and device makers embrace competing options.

This wouldn't be the first time Microsoft will have beaten rivals to market only to be overtaken by competitors that have more aggressive marketing strategies. To avoid another "iPhone moment," Microsoft needs to start marketing its mixed reality vision ... now.

Microsoft's Windows Mixed Reality message

Microsoft's marketing message should promote how Windows 10 is the platform that powers consumer-facing VR headsets such as those provided by Dell, Lenovo, ASUS, Acer, HP and 3Glasses.

To demonstrate the AR capabilities of Windows Mixed Reality, Microsoft should also promote HoloLens by highlighting its current use in specific industries such as education.

This approach promotes both extremes of the mixed reality continuum. Highlighting Windows 10 as a platform for VR and AR through partnerships, combined with promoting real world applications of AR via HoloLens, positions Microsoft to communicate to consumers an often overlooked portion of its mixed reality vision: consumer content creation for AR and VR environments. This is a widely unknown part of Microsoft's 3D-for-everyone and mixed-reality-creators visions.

With the Paint 3D app (Microsoft's reimagined Paint app), the Remix 3D community and the upcoming Windows Capture 3D app, Microsoft is giving consumers the tools to easily create 3D content that can be used in mixed reality environments. Sadly, Microsoft has yet to articulate this message to consumers.

From Paint 3D to mixed reality

Paint 3D is part of the Windows 10 Creators Update and is core to the company's vision to bring 3D to everyone. In a recent post, I asked, "if 3D is for everyone, why isn't Microsoft marketing Paint 3D to anyone?"

The app allows users to create or import 3D pictures, and edit them and share them with Paint Remix, within apps such as PowerPoint as well as mixed reality environments.

That last point is important to Microsoft's creators, 3D-for-everyone and mixed-reality visions but has gotten very little attention from Microsoft and industry watchers. Since Microsoft envisions everyone as "creators," it has equipped us to create 3D content for what it sees as the next shift in personal computing: mixed reality.

Microsoft wants consumers to create mixed reality content.

Most of the focus on mixed reality has been on the consumption of AR and VR content. Microsoft, however, is providing a comprehensive solution which gives consumers, via Paint 3D and the upcoming Windows 3D Capture smartphone app, the ability to create mixed reality content, as well. Microsoft Manager Megan Saunders put it this way:

Windows 10 allows your 3D content to seamlessly flow not only across your screens, but also out into your world. Take an object from the real world, capture it in 3D, edit it in Paint 3D ... bring it back into your world as a hologram or take it into a virtual world.

Microsoft is the only company with a comprehensive mixed reality solution that includes an OS as a mixed reality platform, a high-end AR solution in HoloLens, VR partnerships and mixed reality content creation tools for consumers.

3D made easy

During the introduction of Paint 3D, Microsoft referenced the 100 million users of its popular predecessor Microsoft Paint. Despite an inexplicable lack of marketing, Microsoft's framing of Paint 3D in that context reflects a desire for it to become an equally popular content creation tool for consumers.

Furthermore, Paint 3D's connection to Microsoft's mixed reality vision imparts a greater degree of urgency for the app's adoption.

It's simplicity as a consumer-friendly tool for 3D creation, and the path it creates for providing content for Windows Mixed Reality, potentially introduces consumers to Microsoft's vision of mainstreaming mixed reality as the next step in personal computing.

Holographic computing — the new normal

Microsoft wants to "normalize" mixed reality content creation and consumption at the consumer level. If successful, Microsoft can potentially "close the loop" between its high-end industry-specific investments with Hololens and Windows Mixed Reality and the way users and developers might take advantage of 3D content creation for mixed reality.

Microsoft should be aggressively communicating that Windows 10 is a platform for mixed reality and that Paint 3D enables 3D content creation for mixed reality for everyone.

Rest assured that if Apple had created a mixed reality platform and an app that turns regular consumers into creators of 3D content that could be shared and integrated into AR and VR environments, you'd have already seen compelling TV ads showcasing users creating, interacting with and sharing 3D content.

Marketing Mixed Reality

If Microsoft wants consumer mindshare for its mixed reality investments the company should run a comprehensive Windows 10 campaign that highlights specific OS features.

One series of ads should promote Windows 10 as a platform for Windows Mixed Reality. This segment of the campaign would complement any advertisements partners would run for their VR headsets. These ads might include showcasing partner hardware, but the focus would be an attempt to create an association in consumers' minds between mixed reality and Microsoft, by way of Windows 10.

An additional series of ads could focus on communicating how Paint 3D brings 3D and mixed reality content creation to everyone. These ads could highlight children and adults creating 3D content and could showcase the Windows 3D Capture app being used to import 3D content. They could also show users editing and bringing 3D content as holograms or 3D objects to AR and VR.

Microsoft must do far more than announce new features at events and create YouTube videos that only techies will watch. It must market its mixed reality vision to consumers — before Apple and Google do to Microsoft with mixed reality what they did to it with smartphones.

Jason Ward

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

  • Thanks for reading folks!!! Microsoft's lead in Mixed Reality is clear but far from insurmountable. The competition is fierce and if consumer mindshare is usurped by a rival solution then developers and potentially oems and other industry resources will follow. This even if MS felt content to focus on specific industry applications of Mixed Reality it's position would be threatened even there. Currently MS is the only company with a comprehensive solution which includes an OS as a mixed reality platform, a high end AR solution in HoloLens, partnerships for consumer focused VR headsets and an app in Paint 🎨 3D that equips users to create mixed realty content. All if this positions MS to realize a vision for what it sees as the next phase in personal computing: Mixed reality. Th problem is its not communicating any of this to consumers. Rivals will likely, as historically proven, swoop in and grab consumer mindshare leaving MS with great ideas but poor execution.🙁 Should MS start a marketing campaign highligting distinct aspects of Windows 10 like Windows Mixed Reality, Paint 3D and even HoloLens for awareness(they have ads in television fir Microsoft Cloud after all)? Well LET'S TALK!!
  • Devices for the PC aren't expected until the 'holidays' and for Xbox until 2018.
    If they start marketing now, the first question will always be "So where can we buy the headsets?"
    Although getting the message out there now of what will be expected would be a good idea.
    Bit of a difficult decision...
  • First question would more likely be "why would I want to wear that stupid thing on my head?"
  • I was just going to state the same thing BUB....They need to get the technology into a regular set of glasses that have no outward differences...having these googly headsets...no thanks.
  • So fangirls,   you want to walk around with these god awful things on your face?  REALLY...you people really are funnY!
  • Agreed. I have a lot of respect for Microsoft but its the classic battle with Microsoft being the software company, a hardware company or a hybrid of both. Software always wins out which is why MS will spend more in developing software for phones both IOS and Android than the hardware to run it.  My guess is if Microsoft is more interested in building expensive hololens than doing and affordable VR as I think they should, we should be prepared to go somewhere else for the hardware and wait on Microsoft's VR software. What I have yet to see from Microsoft are the dreamer game developers. People that can write an engrossing storyboard and pair that with engrossing images in VR. Not everybody gets joy putting bullets in people.  I don't know why MS couldn't build a VR for a treadmill for instance. You put this on and walk/run your treadmill while passing all kinds of nature complete with sounds. Running in parks all over the world similar to what they do in this app Bitgym. Microsoft could do this kind of thing alone but I don't think they have the kettles to go the VR route alone. Its still probably too early for them to make such a leap that just be content in the safety of OS and Office.  But we'll see.
  • AR through a camera lens has actually been around for quite some time. Anyone else remember City Lens on WP 8? No special hardware required (same as Pokémon Go implementation), software/server driven. So what happened? Microsoft's current mindset puts any hardware firmly in the 'office' and is of no interest to to the general consumer outside of Xbox or a home PC (whatever its form factor).
  • Very accurate take. Unfortunately effective marketing and Microsoft don't have a good history of going together...
  • Any word on when countries outside the US (and Canada I think) can order the mixed reality dev kits?
  • Only thing Marketing and Microsoft have in common is the first letter of their names.....
  • Jason, i wish MS hires you(at highly paid position of course) in their marketing team. You will surely open some big eyes and they really need that. 
  • What lead? Until actual products are released, any lead is hypothetical.
  • Exactly, they have prototypes and a clunky headset for developers no one is going to use outside of the house. Hololens was release as a way to make Microsoft seems cool/innovative and people can talk about them. Two years later, still no product.
  • You can't tease the consumers anymore.  If you introduce something to the public, you better have something for them to take home. Right now, HoloLens is something they saw in Youtube...a year ago.  MS marketing is sooo baby boomer.
  • Microsoft should rename all their marketing efforts... Microsoft Soon™. Just saw an article about their new keyboard (with a fingerprint scanning button) and mouse. As expected, to be available soon. Screw soon, Microsoft. Will you ever learn that soon is *not* soon enough? Say it with me, "Announce and release. Announce and release." There is no "soon" in "announce and release."
  • I agree up to one point: The now. The developer versions of the MR HMD's aren't even available yet, let alone the consumer devices. HoloLens is $3,000. Even if they promoted it, very few are able to spend that kind of cash. Once we get closer to the consumer release of the MR headsets, then yes, full court press.
  • Just the fact that this article needs to be written tells you how effective marketing efforts have been at Microsoft. Time and time again, they wow us with these "coming soon" fantastic and innovative ideas only to let everything just fizzle out while another company picks up the idea and grabs the market.
  • Can we please stop calling it "Mixed Reality" as only Microsoft calls it that way and tries to "invent a new category", whereas noone else in the entire damn IT industry is giving two ***** about this term, and makes Microsoft sound pathetic and lame once again ("Pocket PC", "lapability", etc..)
  • So many posts have been stating this over and over about marketing. But no one ever knows if MS is listening. They need to do more AMA interviews and provide direct answers. Then put their money where their mouth is...
  • Microsoft and Effective Marketing are mutually exclusive
  • What product exactly are they going to market right now?  They don't have a product.
  • You're describing the same problem Microsoft always had. And I see nothing changing. As a consumer, I'm just not going to wear god-awful things like those pictured, I don't care what kind of capability they bring. I'm just not going to do it. They aren't worth the price, neither is the capability they bring....not yet, anyway. Perhaps in a couple of years the technology will be better and cheaper and allow for more compact, attractive and comfortable peripherals. But they're a LONG way from that right now, as far as I'm concerned.
  • The writer of this article like many of the fanbois for MS don't get it and sadly, probably never will. They are like the abused spouse in a bad relationship still trying to 'change' the abusive partner. MS has always been a basket case when it comes to marketing and will never be 'cool'. Ain't gonna happen folks.
    MS is what it is - a staid 20th century old style tech company that will get swept into the history books just like many of their contemporaries when the next major change wave hits.
    Don't fight it; embrace it!
  • Such a moronic comment.
  • Show us on the doll where Nadella touched you, Mobilejk. I know it hurts you that the world hasn't stopped using Windows yet, but you need help us help you first. Embrace us, if you will. 
  • All we have is vaporware.  Show me the killer product.  The "got to have this" reason to buy this.  What is the marketing supposed to market when there is nothing to sell?  Right now, it is just a gimmick like 3D TV and just as expensive.   Show me the easy to use and accessible feature or reason to buy one and then they can market it.  Today, there is nothing and it is the same for the other competitors.  Everyone has a nice half baked demo but nobody has shown a reason that you "need one" I hope they are working on a game where AR/VR can be fully utilized -- they just need to convince people just like with 3D glasses why they should spend a lot of money on a kluncky headset.
  • 3D TV failed horribly, no one is even manufacturing them anymore, FYI. People don't like wearing goggles on their heads, it really is that simple.
  • And yet, my 3D TVs still work, and studios are still releasing 3D Blu Ray discs.
  • So you're the guy. Neat.
  • That's right
  • Industry leading position? Lol
  • "Effective marketing will be key to Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality success"
    Also, being good at it and not cloud-ifying it to high hell
  • I'm not wearing scuba goggles on my head, regardless of manufacturer. Unless of course I'm going scuba diving or something similar. Might be great for engineering, medical, trainings, etc. , but for consumers? Yeah, no.
  • Sigh, this is what I have been getting at every single damn time I talk about foregoing the consumer market. Consumers force enterprise purchases not the otherway round... we are not in the old adage of using computers at work influences consumer purchases as everyone almost has a PC and/or a smartphone. I will stop typing otherwise I will literally tear microsoft pair of new eyes, my fellow mods will know exactly what I am talking about. For those who are not aware, last night in my block we had a massive fire and what does my phone decide to do after the last o.s update? Turn off in my pocket and not to mention I received zero calls only to get missed call notifications this MORNING. Retrenching from the consumer market has been a absolute catastrophe.
  • Microsoft is an enterprise company and it seems to me the consumer market is an afterthought. The Xbox division is the exception and, not surprising, there is always rumors about Microsoft selling it. That said, I agree with you this is not a great strategy to the future and, in the end, Microsoft will entrench to the point to be a much smaller, yet very lucrative company, offering cloud based service to enterprise customers.
  • Marketing is only part of the equation. They need a killer product that makes marketing easy. AR/MR/VR might be a tough sell for anyone. Microsoft is in a good position and I think marketing will be important, but they need a killer product. No amount of marketing will fix a flawed experience.
  • In part, I agree with you.  While VR is very new and totally misunderstood by the general public, and since the VR device category is just starting out and is extrememly small, it is a challenge to market such devices. However, VR will one day be HUGE, and Microsoft could/should at least be doing brand advertising showing that they are the leaders in VR technology.  That will go a long way for device choice recognition in the future when consumers are able to figure this all out.
  • All this talk of marketing but there isn't a consumer level device available yet so there is nothing to market, Hololens now resides in the commercial sector with a price tag to match, windows MR/VR will not be with us till the end of the year and Phil Spencer has said that it won't be available for XBox till 2018. If they market it now, it will get some hype but by the time its released everyone would have forgotten about it, all that matters now is that the Dev units are going out and that when its time to release to consumers there should be content available.
  • Exactly and meanwhile Jason declares them as industry leading.
  • So Apple has a device right now? MR is a silly term, bit so is iPad if you think about it. Does no one remember the iPad jokes? Regardless Microsoft is working to it's strength including Xbox and PC.
  • Don't worry they won't do the same mistake like what they did with their mobile plans as comments are already suggesting that if u launch a half baked product even with throwing all of your money in marketing it it will not at all succedd 
  • Tag Line Gift:  "Go Deep with Surface VR."
  • Make Hololens smaller put an eSIM on it make it work like a smartphone sell it for $399   thats FUTURE!
  • Definitely sharing this. Microsoft has got to "stay woke" and get its act together. We saw what happened ten years ago. 
  • Typical Microsoft... they invent a great feature like Continuum and then put it on hold, in a raw form and let the competition take it over....
  • It would help immensely in educating the consumer and public for those invested in VR as Microsoft is to forwardly define exactly what VR is. You can't go to the mall without every gadget that has anything close to goggles -- even old ViewMasters -- are being tagged as "VR" products.
  • VR is getting a lot of mindshare through Playstation VR amongst the people I know and the students I teach - Microsoft needed a VR solution for the Xbox last year but for some reason didn't bother and *still* didn't have a VR solution this year. They had a lead but spent too long with Hololens before realising *once again* that they're better when they democratise their tech and get OEMs on board - but that's taken time. That these very cool MR headsets for Windows PCs don't work out of the gate with Xbox is nuts, and now iOS is joining Google and Playstation on board the MR train this summer they may have already lost. Their education event also showed that they're spending far too much time working with schools and universities that appear to have bottomless bank accounts to provide students with Surfaces and Hololenses everywhere and failed to show anything suitable for schools that have little to no budget other than Office 365 with Teams, which they're not particularly good at marketing against Google Apps (here in the UK anyway). I mean, there's apparently all these cool new education features in Windows 10 and Office 365 (which I use in my school) but they haven't actually ever told me about them - I only know what's going on because I follow sites like this.
  • Meanwhile Paul Thurott wrote an 'article' about the demise of MS's AR-efforts (yeah 'mixed reality') due to Apple entering the market with an actual plan. Apple is going to sell an awful lot of phones (with good reason, whether you like it or not) and they are ALL going to be capable of using the possibilities of ARKit. Developers will on that...because there is a user base (the millions of iPhones and iPads? sold). And then there is MS with their UWP that doesn't have a big lift off with a product that costs $3000 and people here think that will work out fine. It's not about marketing (though MS could do better), it's about having a clear thought out plan and sticking firmly to it. 
  • You are correct Gentry,  thats why I use MS as my home based/notebook system and apple for my mobile devices.  Apple has many features and useful items not found in windows devices that make them MUCH better for MOBILE than windoh's mobile.   I truly believe that that fangirls here never go outside their bedrooms and just use their phones,  connected to a monitor 24/7.  Hence the reason their windows mobile devices and the thought of running x86 on a phone appeals to them.  X86 on a mobile device is as useful as offering steak at a vegetarian resturant.   Or,  as south park says..."a pig and elephant DNA just won't match"  X86 and mobile devices just won't match.   
  • Microsoft's problem has always been that it actually brought its tech to the world too early, before it was ready. Tablets, pda's, etc.. It's smarter to only release something and market it when it has been perfected. This is what Apple does with its products. Take the lumia 950/950xl with the most horrible start known to man. Reviewers ate it alive and not just because of the apps. And then it was put away and no one cared. A year later MS finally got them functioning properly. Also they need their competitors to come out with AR/VR solutions that will get people into the tech. MS can't lead unfortunately as they still have that tainted brand among consumers. They have an opportunity to let people get into VR/AR with the competitor products and then release something that will WOW people and will become a must have now that people have tasted AR/VR. This is why they are working on perfecting HoloLens before getting it out. I think MS can still take their time with this. The VR stuff is scheduled for holidays naturally. They need to perfect it. They will have the marketing power of the OEMs as well. HoloLens will come another time once people are used to the whole thing and want something better.
  • People here dont seem to get that there is a reason why Microsoft targeted Hololens at enterprises and the educational sector first. Same will be true for Windows Mixed Reality. There is a use case in these settings for this tech. Regular iPhone or Samsung Galaxy sporting Joe's are not going to use this, at least not yet! And that's a good thing!
  • Exactly, those technologies are not ready for consumers, VR will become more popular with the help of gamers, but it also had some issues already, like nausea and frankly i really want to try VR, but playing for 3 or 4 hours with some glasses, it's not for now. So VR can be fun if you use it for a short time, but using it as usual, no thanks... Will see in few years...
  • Android has been more successful due to it's mobile phone OS being far more useful. Microsoft's neglect of 10 Mobile left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Yet again they plan to abandon it like RT devices. No sense in getting involved with the novelty of something expensive that is abandoned before it's even complete or stable. Microsoft cannot blame consumers or marketing when the product never delivers.
  • Marketing yes, but they should be focusing on UWP apps and custom WMR apps. You get a momentum of the latter through the former. But lately I haven't seen much evidence of UWP focus.