Microsoft is notably quiet regarding its immersive products.
While the firm is introducing more minor updates for its XR product and service portfolio, it is not as present in the market as in years past, when the HoloLens 2 device first landed.
However, following ups and downs, Microsoft’s long-awaited MR device may be closer than audiences think.
Not long ago, Microsoft filed a patent request for an MR device which draws similarities to the legacy HoloLens line-up.
According to the request, the conceptual device will be lighter and contain a modular framework – providing enterprise end-users with improved usability and form factors.
Microsoft outlines a head-mounted device with a “rigid frame and front and back visor lens” with integrated sensors, waveguide optics, and display/projection devices.
The headset user may also dim their display and attach additional equipment such as a “headband, VR headset, glasses temples, helmet,” to suit various use cases.
Moreover, the modular device will allow users to enhance their performance with an additional kit. The request states a “rear-attachment module may be provided that can provide auxiliary compute, storage, and power resources.”
It is unclear how many, if any, of these features will see the light of day. However, the notable improvements, such as a lightweight design, modular frame, and dimmable display, fit alongside its IVAS military-grade XR device – perhaps a glimpse into the future of the HoloLens 3.
The IVAS headset is undergoing a crucial testing face which sees military professionals use the new and improved version of the device in the field.
Following previous testing periods, the most recent IVAS iteration leverages MR visualizations to assist soldiers on the field by displaying tactical heads-up displays (HUDs), thermal vision, night vision, and passive targeting. Moreover, the recent iteration contains minor improvements – which may suggest features in a further HoloLens product – such as device visibility at night, weight, and form factor.
Microsoft’s XR and HoloLens Refocus
The Hololens has faced a series of setbacks since its marketplace debut. Despite usage in healthcare, AEC, military, and education sectors, Microsoft’s XR ambition has seemingly taken a backseat following reductions and relocations of its immersive technology talent – with much of the firm’s innovation focus moving towards AI.
However, Microsoft still has a strong team of XR developers and experts working on emerging immersive products.
Most recently, at Microsoft Inspire 2023, the firm quietly teased information regarding an industrial metaverse initiative to kick off in 2024.
Microsoft’s AI Cloud Partner Program brings together leading technology companies to fuel growth and innovation towards enterprise-grade AI – with this, Microsoft will start supporting efforts to grow industrial metaverse solutions.
The partnership will innovate AI, Cloud, and Metaverse solutions to increase enterprise end-user productivity, resiliency, and sustainability, while also offering a “curated learning path” to provide end-users with resources to introduce workplace XR technology.
This year, Microsoft also introduced AR and VR avatar functions to Teams, reminding audiences that the firm’s Windows & Devices division and Microsoft Mesh divisions are still going strong – leveraging talent from Microsoft’s dedicated and now dissolved HoloLens and AltSpace development teams.
Moreover, with the June release of Windows Holographic version 23H1, Lola Bryan, Principal Program Manager at Microsoft, proclaimed the firm’s dedication to XR, stating the 23H1 update “reinforce[s] our commitment” to the Hololens platform.
At the time, Bryan added:
By making this investment, we have optimized our engineering infrastructure and increased engineering velocity. For end-users, we have increased reliability and predictability of updating apps, as well as the OS.
HoloLens 3 has to Improve on Iterations to Succeed Significantly
In late 2022, Microsoft’s Vice President of MR, Scott Evans, said a new headset iteration could soon come, explaining that a third HoloLens device would only arrive once the technology was ready.
At the time, Microsoft expressed that a HoloLens 3 device would debut upon the arrival of a significant step up in performance when compared to previous iterations.
Evans also said, “no one wants to be obsoleted for 10% better capabilities. They don’t need a successor yet, but they want to know it will be there at the right time.”
Robin Seiler, Company Vice President and COO of Windows and Devices Organisation, also commented on the status of MRTK in early 2023, noting:
From its inception, we created the MRTK to be cross-platform and open-source to benefit the entire ecosystem and not just HoloLens. We are excited that the open-source approach will enable it to live on, and we hope to see increased contributions from others across the Mixed Reality space.
The recent patent requests may not mean that Microsoft will release a new MR device any time soon, and if they do release a new immersive product, it will most likely look different to the patent.
Moreover, with its current roadmap, there is a good chance that Microsoft will not release a significant XR product or service until 2024.
But with recent doubling down on military-grade HoloLens devices alongside its Metaverse roadmap. A HoloLens 3 may be closer than audiences believe.