Microsoft’s mixed reality (MR) division is constantly under the microscope of the technology media landscape. Over the past year, Microsoft, its Hololens, and its mixed reality toolkit (MRTK) stood on uncertain ground while the firm’s immersive research and development (R&D) branches faced cutbacks amidst general company reductions.
Although, despite setbacks and rumours of Microsoft dropping support for its MR division, in a blog post, the Corporate Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Windows + Devices Organization at Microsoft, Robin Seiler, calmed rumours suggesting that the firm is still supporting the Hololens and MRTK.
In an opening statement, Seiler noted:
The intent of this note is to help provide clarity to this community on our commitment to HoloLens 2 and the broader Mixed Reality program.
The news comes after Microsoft closed the doors on Altspace VR (virtual reality), the collaboration and socialization Metaverse platform. The move may reflect Microsoft’s commitment to, and perhaps transitions towards, MR enterprise solutions over VR consumer services.
Moreover, Microsoft is laying off roughly 10,000 jobs and dropping several hardware projects by March 2023. The move brought uncertainty to Microsoft’s MR arm as the layoff greatly affected its immersive division.
Microsoft Continues Hololens 2 Support
Seiler confirmed that Microsoft would continue to support the Hololens 2 device. Microsoft will continue to provide Hololens 2 device updates to assist enterprise clients in leveraging the device.
Microsoft provides clients in markets such as field service, factory operations, and healthcare with upcoming Hololens 2 updates.
The firm also works with the US military to provide servicepeople with an MR training device. The duo’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) headset will continue to receive updates based on military personnel feedback. The US Army ordered roughly 10,000 IVAS headsets for additional field testing.
Although, Microsoft’s IVAS headset is facing hurdles. Late last year, Senators rejected the US Army’s $400 million request to procure up to 6,900 IVAS headsets for 2023.
The US Army contract is a significant stake for the Hololens device. Still, Microsoft’s MR branch has partnerships with other major firms like Toyota Motors.
Moreover, in the wake of Microsoft’s continued dedication to the Hololens. The firm is also doubling support for its open-source, cross-platform immersive content development platform MRTK.
MRTK allows immersive content developers to design applications and solutions for distribution on various platforms, including the Hololens, mobile, and desktop devices.
Robin Seiler also added:
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.
Microsoft is maintaining compatibility between MRTK and HoloLens 2, which includes continuing open-source contributions to MRTK. Constant updates enable MRTK developers to efficiently build for HoloLens 2.
Microsoft’s Commitment to the Industrial Metaverse
On the broader picture, Microsoft’s MR commitment reflects its vision of providing an industrial Metaverse ecosystem for its clients.
Microsoft’s Hololens, MRTK, and Mesh product portfolio provide an umbrella of immersive services for various enterprise use cases. Moreover, the Redmond, Washington-based firm is also integrating its established Dynamics 365 Guides and Remote Assist into the Hololens product.
Seiler also said:
HoloLens and Dynamics 365 are key components of Industrial Metaverse deployments, connecting the benefits of digital transformation to frontline workers in field service, factory operations, and many other use cases.
Moreover, combined with its MRTK support, Microsoft can support developers in distributing interoperable industrial Metaverse solutions on the Hololens.
Microsoft Mesh is an enterprise-grade Metaverse solution. Since the demise of Altspace VR, many of the platform’s ex-team members will join the Mesh service in an attempt to define the emerging services as another Metaverse competitor.
Microsoft is working with the World Economic Forum (WEF) and other enterprise early adopters to provide feedback on the emerging service. The WEF notably worked with the Mesh platform to create a Global Collaboration Village, which provides WEF employees with an immersive workspace.
Is the Hololens 3 Ever Coming?
Much like Apple’s long-reported but unseen MR device, it seems that each week a new rumour circles the Hololens 3 device.
In December 2022, Microsoft’s Vice President of MR, Scott Evans, said, in an official Microsoft Hololens 2 blog post, that a new headset iteration could come.
The VP added that the potential device would come once the technology is ready. Reports indicate that Microsoft may debut the Hololens 3 when the technology presents a significant step up in performance when compared to previous headset versions.
The Microsoft VP said the company examines design specifications and client challenges that the Hololens 3 can address. For instance, the company’s MR division investigates the Hololens’ display, tracking, sensors, and battery life.
After a difficult 2022, Microsoft is putting in a lot of effort to provide a significant hardware update for hardware users. Microsoft wants a better Hololens 2 replacement that increases ROI.
While it is unclear if Microsoft will debut the Hololens 3 anytime soon, the recent comments from Robin Seiler breed life into the future of the firm’s MR division – despite layoffs, dropped contracts, and a tough 2022.
Additionally, in its Q2 earnings report, Microsoft outlines the success of its AI and cloud solutions. The firm’s investments could greatly assist Microsoft in delivering enhanced MR applications such as integrated GPT and cloud-based rendering.
On the other hand, Microsoft is looking to spread spatial editions of its Office suite. In October 2022, Microsoft delivered an immersive version of its popular collaboration suite on the Meta Quest product portfolio.
A Tough 2022 for Microsft’s Holoens 2
Microsoft has an optimistic vision following a close gaze from the immersive industry because 2022 was challenging for the Hololens team.
Following numerous reports of unethical behaviour, Microsoft’s former head of Hololens and MR, Alex Kipman, resigned from his position in June 2022.
The head’s resignation led to Microsoft’s Hololens development team undergoing reorganization procedures. The company shifted management and development responsibilities for Hololens to its Windows & Devices division.
After the setback, many Microsoft Hololens engineers moved to Meta to work on rival MR solutions.
While many saw Kipman’s registration, the MR division layoffs, and Altspce closure as a bad omen for Microsoft’s Hololens roadmap, recent success with industry partners and a refocus following a successful Q2 earning report may revitalize Microsoft’s immersive technology goals.