With Windows Holographic OS now open to all vendors, Microsoft has essentially crowned itself the new king of virtual reality.
The Bandwidth Blog team predicted earlier this year that virtual reality would see a major rise as a platform in 2016 and beyond, with headsets such as the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and HTC Vive leading the charge. However, one thing we couldn’t have possible anticipated is how – in one fell swoop – Microsoft has usurped the throne and crowned itself the new king of virtual reality with Windows Holographic OS.
Microsoft certainly made waves with the announcement that Windows Holographic OS, though I believe this is a crucible moment we’ve yet to truly appreciate. As Mao Zedong opined when asked what effect the French Revolution would have on society – over 100 years after the fact – the sentiment “it’s too soon to tell” rings a familiar bell here. Read: Microsoft just put itself at the forefront of virtual reality
For many, opening Windows Holographic OS to third party vendors is incredibly reminiscent of the Redmond company’s original strategy towards personal computing, wherein Microsoft built the software, and proceeded to let manufacturers run amok with hardware.
The crucible difference, however, is a matter of maturity. The realm of personal computing is now a relatively closed one; battle lines have been drawn between Windows, OS X, and to a lesser extent, Linux and Unix, and on mobile, Android contends with iOS and a dying Windows Phone. Yet here we stand on the precipice of a new platform without a dedicated operating system to drive us forward.
Where Facebook controls Oculus, HTC are hedging their bets on SteamVR for the Vive. Sony can rely on the PlayStation 4 for PlayStation VR, and Google is set to use Android for its DayDream platform.
At Computex, Microsoft’s Terry Myerson surmised all of the above in but one sentence: “Nobody has built an operating system for this generation”.
While SteamVR might offer manufacturers an abundance of freedom, Windows Holographic OS offers the security of its desktop namesake and is presently the only platform that will be able to run aboard a virtual reality or augmented reality headset on its own.
A major criticism of the move is that Microsoft has – like it did with Windows Phone – dug its own grave; Android VR is well on its way under Google’s DayDream project and will likely be able to offer headsets at the fraction of the price Windows Holographic OS will demand.
In fact, the precedent for that idea is already in existence; take Google Cardboard. No matter how trite the ‘experiences’ Google offers aboard the platform are, its mere existence is a symbolic victory – a new, exciting technology that can be accessed by cobbling together some household items. Were we to liken this to the dawn of smartphones, it’s a breakthrough – no-one could enjoy a colour screen or built-in camera by making use of household materials back in the day unless they had a home laboratory out of Back to the Future.
Yet, what I believe most have yet to realise is that – for once – Microsoft is greatly ahead of the curve. As we’ve seen time and again (first with PCs, then with smartphones) new technology proliferates from the top of the market downward. Consider, for example, how the premium Android phones of several years ago are far less capable than the average low-grade fair many manufacturers now produce to satisfy their lower-end market.
Further, Microsoft has the ideal OS strategy, even if Windows Phone sinks into the ocean. Windows Everywhere has seen a shaky start – from a plodding Xbox One system to a mixed reaction and slow adoption of Continuum – yet in many ways, virtual reality is its missing component.
The next great wave of personal computing won’t be defined by what’s visible on a computer screen; it’ll be based on the ability to overlay information on tactile surfaces. What Microsoft can over here is a tried and tested operating system that integrates some of the world’s most relied-upon programs, such has Office, and a new extension for Cortana that could altogether skip the likes of a smart home unit such as Google Now or Amazon Echo. Developers will have an entirely new reason to get in bed with Windows, in a trajectory which neither Android, iOS, OS X, Linux or Unix have shown a willingness to head. Read: Microsoft unveils new AR device ““ the HoloLens
For now, Microsoft has a virtual reality in a death grip. Between opening Windows Holographic OS to third party manufacturers and the fact that the likes of the Vive and Rift can only run on Windows in any case, the Redmond company has the best chance at taking virtual reality forward.
What are your thoughts on Windows Holographic OS? Can Microsoft successfully lead the world into the age of virtual reality? Be sure to let us know your opinion in the comments below, and listen in to Bandwidth Blog On Air, where we discussed our thoughts on Microsoft’s latest move!