Microsoft’s Plan for Virtual and Augmented Reality Is to Have Headsets Run Windows

Microsoft revealed its big plan for virtual and augmented reality at Computex 2016 in Taipei Wednesday, and it goes far beyond the company’s futuristic HoloLens headset: Microsoft wants partners to build their own virtual, augmented and mixed reality headsets based on its Windows operating system.

To enable this, Microsoft officially announced a new initiative called Windows Holographic Wednesday that will allow partners to use some of the same technology that’s being used for HoloLens for their own devices.

And these devices don’t necessarily have to be HoloLens clones: Microsoft is envisioning a whole new set of devices that merge the real world with the virtual. Some could project holographic images over the your view your environment, while others could simply “scan” objects or people to import them into virtual worlds.

“Imagine wearing a VR device and seeing your physical hands as you manipulate an object, working on the scanned 3D image of a real object, or bringing in a holographic representation of another person into your virtual world so you can collaborate,” wrote Microsoft Windows and devices group EVP Terry Myerson in a blog post Wednesday. “In this world, devices can spatially map your environment wherever you are; manipulating digital content is as easy and natural as picking up a box or sitting at a table; and you can easily teleport into your next meeting or travel together as a team.”

Microsoft illustrated these ideas with a video as well:

The company will give developers access to Windows Holographic later this year, and has already partnered with a number of big chip and device makers to build devices based on and optimized for the platform. Intel, AMD, Qualcomm, HTC, Acer, ASUS, CyberPowerPC, Dell, Falcon Northwest, HP, iBuyPower, Lenovo and MSI are all among the partners announced Wednesday.

However, this doesn’t mean that each and every of these companies is going to build a headset. Partners could build “PCs, displays, accessories and mixed reality devices” that make use of Windows Holographic, according to Myerson. HP or Lenovo may just be building a high-end gaming PC that may one day also run apps for Windows Holograpic devices.

Speaking of which: Microsoft already has a big role in VR, as both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are already dependent on Windows PCs. It’s very likely that any next-generation augmented reality headset would also depend on these kinds of high-end PCs. So why announce a dedicated VR initiative?

The answer is that Microsoft, much like Google, wants to be at the center stage of virtual and augmented reality. This means not only to provide the operating system, but also run the app store and supply the services necessary to run augmented and virtual reality experiences.

In fact, Google may be one of Microsoft’s biggest adversaries as both companies plan for a future in which augmented and virtual reality become daily utilities. Google introduced its mobile virtual reality platform Daydream at its Google I/O developer conference earlier this month; Daydream is based on Android, not Windows, and hands Google the keys to the app store.

Separately, Google is also working on next-generation mobile augmented reality devices as part of its Project Tango. One day, these efforts may merge — and Microsoft wants to be ready for that day.

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