Can Microsoft keep up with Apple in the race for AR/VR supremacy?
Microsoft is an industry leader in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) thanks to HoloLens, Windows Mixed Reality and the company's partnerships for VR headsets. With a single update in iOS 11, however, Apple may be poised to become a legitimate challenger.
In 2015, Microsoft introduced HoloLens, a head-mounted Windows 10 computer that allows wearers to see and interact with holograms that overlay the real world. Windows Mixed Reality (previously called Windows Holographic) is the platform that powers Microsoft's AR and VR experiences.
HoloLens represents Microsoft's vision of a future of holographic computing. In a consumer-influenced age of personal computing, however, Microsoft has no consumer-facing AR devices in the market. To be fair, in 2015 CEO Satya Nadella made it clear that a consumer version of HoloLens isn't due until 2020. Recent news of Microsoft's skipping of the second generation HoloLens to "accelerate version three" positions that version to arrive a year earlier in 2019.
Still, Microsoft has little AR and VR mindshare because most consumers don't know about HoloLens or Windows Mixed Reality. Though Microsoft is preparing for a push of consumer-focused VR headsets later this year, those efforts may come too late to solidify consumer mindshare.
Google Cardboard is already gaining mindshare as an affordable VR solution. And Pokemon Go introduced AR to millions of Android and iPhone users. Riding that wave of AR awareness Apple introduced ARKit at Apple's WWDC this year. ARKit enables Apple's 16 million registered developers to turn hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads into what Apple claims will be the world's largest AR platform.
Should Microsoft, with its install base of 500 million Windows Mixed Reality-equipped Windows 10 PCs, be worried? Absolutely.
What's happening with HoloLens?
Though HoloLens isn't ready for consumers, Microsoft garnered support from thousands of developers who purchased the $3,000 headset when it began shipping last year. In celebration of that one year anniversary, HoloLens creator Alex Kipman announced there are now 150 HoloLens-exclusive apps in the Windows Store.
That number doesn't sound impressive, particularly within the context of the "app-gap-plagued" Windows Store. Those apps, however, were produced from a very small HoloLens developer pool. Microsoft has also been methodic and deliberate with its introduction of HoloLens in specific markets and partnerships. A deluge of apps wouldn't be expected from this type of strategy of building tailored use cases while still developing the mixed reality platform.
NASA, Stryker, Lowes, Legendary Entertainment, the education sector and the U.S. Military are some entities that have embraced HoloLens and Windows Mixed Reality.
Marketing mixed reality matters
According to an internal company memo, Microsoft's planning a more aggressive and consumer-facing push of Windows Mixed Reality and HoloLens via a dedicated Mixed Reality Marketing team under the direction of Elizabeth Hamren, former CMO of Oculus VR, beginning later this year.
Corporate Vice President of Windows and Devices Yusef Mehdi said:
Microsoft's cautious approach to the market resulted in partnerships that demonstrate how AR can be effectively implemented. Furthermore, competition among hardware partners will yield mindshare and market-presence benefits as Windows Mixed Reality VR headsets begin hitting the market this year.
Apple's AR advantage
Apple has three distinct advantages over Microsoft. First, ARKit for iOS 11 will allow hundreds of millions of iPhone and iPad users to experience AR on devices they already own. Beginning at $299, Windows Mixed Reality VR headsets are affordable but a free upgrade to iOS 11 is inherently more accessible.
Apple's second advantage is its 16 million registered developers. If just 10 percent of them develop AR apps this year, 1.6 million developers will dwarf the mere thousands who've made the 150 HoloLens-specific apps. HoloLens is a full Windows 10 computer and can run any Windows program, but the library of HoloLens-specific apps is still (after a year) a mere 150.
Unlike Microsoft's mixed reality strategy that began in the enterprise, Apple is bringing AR directly to consumers. This approach will certainly build mindshare as developers bring AR games, utilities, social and other AR apps to the App Store.
Imagine an AR chess game overlaid on your kitchen table. Or an AR shopping experience, like the one Microsoft demonstrated with HoloLens where a holographic stool was placed in a room to determine its fit before purchase.
Such real life uses of AR will certainly be brought to market first by Apple, especially because Microsoft has only consumer-facing VR and no AR solutions headed to market in the near future.
The third advantage is that Apple is a master marketer. Microsoft is not.
Microsoft's AR advantage
Microsoft's head-mounted AR solution has a major advantage over Apple's clumsy iPhone-and-iPad-as-an-AR-viewfinder solution. HoloLens allows wearers to naturally and fluidly interact with their environments. Apple's solution encumbers a user's hands as they're forced to hold an iPhone or worse, an iPad, as an unnatural viewfinder for their world. This requirement awkwardly alters one's interaction with reality.
HoloLens's gaze tracking technology provide an AR solution without encumbering a user's hands. His eyes, not his hands, direct where AR artifacts are viewed. With HoloLens users can continue to look at their worlds, but Apple's solution forces users to look at their devices.
HoloLens creator Alex Kipman and the age of holograms.
HoloLens gives users the more realistic perspective of "being within" the augmented space rather than peering at pieces of it through a handheld screen. HoloLens's cameras map the entire space a user is in while also providing spatial sound. Consequently, users hear the direction digital artifacts are coming from even if they're not in the field of view, just as in real life. In addition to gaze, gesture and voice are methods of interacting in a HoloLens environment.
Microsoft's Mixed Reality strategy supports VR, includes Paint 3D so users can create 3D mixed reality content, provides Remix 3D where users can share 3D creations and is bringing the Windows 3D Capture app to market, so users can scan real objects to create 3D images.
Finally, Microsoft's skipping of the second generation HoloLens may result in a more refined version that consumers won't mind wearing publically. Which brings us back to Apple.
Apple's building the foundation for AR glasses
AR experiences on an iPhone and iPad are not Apple's endgame. The downsides to those cumbersome experiences are just the growing pains Apple's willing to endure as it builds the foundation for its next step in AR.
ARKit allows Apple to rally 16 million developers and hundreds of millions of iPhone and iPad users to create a vast, diverse and engaging ecosystem of AR apps in a fraction of the time it could take Microsoft to do the same. Microsoft built a wearable AR headset before it established an audience, ecosystem, and demand for AR. Apple's doing the opposite.
As AR apps populate the App Store and consumers experience and engage them, their desires for a more natural experience will also evolve. Apple will then satisfy that strategically manufactured demand with AR glasses that the company is likely already developing.
Just as Apple made smartwatches average consumers would wear, it won't settle for making anything less than aesthetically appealing AR glasses which are rumored for 2018, which would beat the next HoloLens.
Even if Apple waits until 2019 to launch its AR glasses, it will do so with the benefit of a robust ecosystem of AR specific apps and an engaged user base.
Will Microsoft be able to claim the same?
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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!
One of the articles you posted in your comments says that mobile market is still in early stages. That was the one that claimed they were about to throw $400 million into WP7 launch. The article was from 2010. Now you're saying it was an established market... I see a bit of contradiction here.
How many times do I have to say it before Microsoft hears me? How many articles must you write correctly telling MS how to run business? Why do they refuse to do what we tell them to do? Lol😜
ha ha ha JK. If MS didn't keep burning it's little bridges maybe this wouldn't be a problem.
You just said "the issue isn't with smoking cigarettes, it's with long cancer"...
Root cause, dude.. And, if MS doesn't start doing something about the cause then your effect (user base) will always be negative.
How many times do I have to say it before Microsoft hears me?" Marketing, marketing, marketing. A familiar refrain here that's easy to say but completely misses the mark. Marketing is not Microsoft's weak point. They know how and when to market. For goodness sake, they're sitting on $100 US billion in cold, hard cash. They took XBox from 0 to competitor through brute force marketing (and, a Mac game :). They spent good money on the Zune. Their weakness is their corporate culture. In the last 30 years they've been a company that specializes in making technology affordale, somewhat accessible and to be the business solution. Apple, by comparison has gone for easily accessible but not particularly affordable. This has resulted in two very different corporate cultures and expertises. Unless Microsoft spins off certain divisions they're going to have a hard time competing with Apple in Apple's speciality which is making things easily accessible. It's the exact same reason Apple is not going to spin off macOS or iOS into their own divisions so they can compete on commodity hardware with Windows and Android. macOS and iOS sells hardware for Apple (and, act as a conduit for App Store and iTune Music Store sales). Apple gives the operating system away for free but makes profit on the high margin hardware and on aftermarket services. If they were to shift to selling the OS on cheap commodity hardware Apple would suddenly be competing with Microsoft and Android on their own home turf. It wouldn't work. When Apple tried that approach it hammered their bottom line because it's the OS that people wanted and the promptly ended the clone program. So, anyway, my point is that marketing is not Microsoft's achilles heel--it's its corporate culture and no amount of marketing is going to change that. In essence Microsoft needs to split itself up into independent parts if it's going to go after Apple's breakfast. Windows is becoming a much less important part of its income stream, so, things like its HoloLens experiments won't be given the freedom to compete that they need. Remember this: no amount of marketing is going to make the visionless shine and vision is not what Microsoft is good at. It's great at copying. No, it's not just great at copying, it has perfected copying. But, it's never mastered the art of invention and never will because that's not what it's corporate culture is built around. Apple is different in that they take good ideas with mediocre implementations and make them great implementations. Apple's marketing succeeds because it has products to sell that do a really good job of meeting people's needs or creating new, undiscovered solutions to undiscovered needs. Yes, marketing will get you to buy something once but it won't make you into a repeat customer if you're disappointed with the experience. Apple has a customer loyalty score that is the envy of the technology business--this is because it delivers what its users want, time and time again. We will never see Apple software on commodity hardware. Surface notwithstanding, we will never see Windows on premium hardware, unless Microsoft spins off Windows as a wholly independent company. The respective corporate cultures determine the types of products they sell and it's dangerous for either company to try to change course mid-stream if they're to remain profitable. Microsoft and Apple have both expanded into the services sector, but, that's a new business that didn't require a change in their existing business model. Changing their existing business model likely will not end up in great success. Microsoft is laying the ground work for a challenge to Apple's dominance in the high value computer hardware sales with the Surface, but, unless Surface andn Windows are spun off from Microsoft they won't have the frreedom to properly compete with Apple.
Microsoft doesn't stand a chance when trolls (and Apple fans) like Mike Tanasychuk, who work for huge sites like Mobile Nations, are allowed to infiltrate Windows related sites with articles that are not only totally irrelevant to MS, and Windows, but help move users away from MS products and services.
This makes ZERO sense, and is the kind of hatred, and fate, that iDroid loving fans (like your very own Mike Tanasychuk) have wished on Microsoft for years.
Jason Ward, if you are a true windows fan, then stories like the one your boy posted Friday about alternatives to MS products on OUR site should make your stomach churn.
Microsoft's lack of effective marketing is already a nail in their coffin, when it comes to more modern technologies. The last thing they need is Mobile Nations, and editors like Mike Tanasychuk, making things that much harder on them........ Jason, what's your take on that?🤔🤔🤔🤔
Phones, Surface range etc shows MS needs to take the lead like Apple does building products then throw it back to their partners. If MS ever wants to re claim any consumer mind share they must take the lead every time.
Devs and partners have flocked to other OS's while MS sits on it's hands waiting for them to come back.
"MS is not a hardware company"...they need to be.
And, your point is slightly irrelevant in this case, and doesn't pertain to what the article is talking about. Jason isn't comparing MS's mixed reality products to Apples.. Rather, the article is touching on how MS doesn't have a consumer product ready that can compete with Apple's.
Looking through an Ipad might seem ok, but it is just a toy, compared to real handsfree AR. So as long as the only thing Apple can show is on a screen of a phone or tablet, I think Microsoft is in another league. But Apple is known for catching up fast... But the whole google glass concept failed, so apple has to show a lot more than a copy of that. And the onecore solution of microsoft isn't easy to copy.