Microsoft’s HoloLens may be the first device to support the company’s Windows Holographic platform, but Microsoft hopes it’s not the last. The company has announced it’s opening up the platform for third-party companies that want to make their own mixed-reality devices and accessories.
In other words, Microsoft wants Windows to be the operating system that powers upcoming virtual reality and augmented reality hardware much the way it already powers most of the world’s personal computers.
Right now the only way to use Windows Holographic is to spend $3000 on a HoloLens dev kit. But if Microsoft has its way, we could see the software running on a wide range of devices in the future.
Microsoft notes that it’s already working to “build a hardware ecosystem supporting great virtual reality experiences on Windows 10” with chip makers including AMD, Intel and Qualcomm and hardware makers including Acer, Asus, Dell, Falcon Northwest, HP, HTC, Lenovo, and MSI.
It’s a bit early to say whether this means we’ll see HoloLens-style augmented reality headsets from companies like Asus or HP anytime soon. But it does open the possibility.
The move makes sense for Microsoft. At a time when traditional PC shipments are stalled, the company has been looking to expand into growth areas. Its smartphone efforts haven’t gone very well, but virtual reality and other “mixed reality” devices are still pretty much in their infancy, so while the first few high profile products in this space aren’t running Windows, it might not be too late for Microsoft to make inroads.
From a user perspective, it could present an interesting value proposition as well. Some of the coolest HoloLen demos have focused on the way the system can overlay digital objects on real-world environments, letting you make 3D video calls to people halfway across the world or play Minecraft in 3D. But Windows Holographic is based on Windows 10, which means in addition to games, videos, and communication tools, it can support Windows apps… and might even be able to replace your computer for some tasks in the future.
Imagine being able to use an HTC Vive-style VR system for gaming, then exiting the game and working on an Office document or surfing the web on a virtual movie screen-sized display.