At its Computex Taipei keynote today, Microsoft announced sweeping plans to build off its HoloLens experiment by creating a fully fledged Windows Holographic platform for hardware partners. The platform is aimed at VR and AR headset makers; Microsoft demonstrated an HTC Vive working in tandem with a HoloLens on stage. After the presentation, Windows chief Terry Myerson and OEMs VP Nick Parker took questions on the initiative in a meeting with reporters.
"The framework with which we're approaching this... we have a Microsoft HoloLens device where we're going to push hard on what's possible with Microsoft HoloLens," Myerson said, when asked about about a timeframe for HoloLens technology becoming more accessible. "And the current price point of HoloLens is $3,000. What we're announcing today is the opportunity to work with our partners that have their own vision for different price points, different form factors and other ways to use the same platform."
"With HoloLens we're pursuing a very specific path."
"So when you ask the question 'when will it be available at a different price point?' or 'when will it be available in a different geo?' — what we're announcing today is the opportunity for you to ask any of our partners that question, because with HoloLens we're pursuing a very specific path. And we didn't announce anything with regard to HoloLens today — it was more about the platform now being available to partners."
Myerson later elaborated that he fully expects OEM partners to build Windows Holographic devices with a wider field of view than Microsoft's HoloLens, for example, addressing one of the bigger criticisms of the current hardware. He emphasized that HoloLens is simply one device that will exist within the future Holographic ecosystem.
Our biggest question coming out of the keynote was how Microsoft could convince partners to support Windows Holographic — after all, Windows is already an open platform where companies like Oculus and Valve are happy to build on top of without going through Microsoft. Here's how Microsoft responded:
Myerson: "The partners we work with, we want to write a platform which enables them to pursue their vision for a device. Windows Holographic will give them a framework that ensures that all of the devices that run Windows Holographic will work well together and all the experiences for Windows Holographic can run on their device. What we aim to do with Windows Holographic is provide a platform where their device vision can come to life: where they can conceive what type of inputs should there be, what type of screen should there be, what type of outputs should there be. And so hopefully then they have the ability to conceive a differentiated device and build their brand and sell the device with gross margin."
The Verge: Will they have a lot of freedom to build within that framework on top of Holographic?
Myerson: "That's our goal. By working with each of these partners we're learning about all the different visions that they have, and then what we're working on is the right frameworks to extract those — whether they want to use a controller, or a six degrees of freedom controller, or just use their hands — the platform will support those different things, and then the different device makers will have different visions for how their devices work."
Parker: "I kind of look at the partner opportunity here all the way from component level to finished goods level. You've got a lot of people in the audience today, they've maybe got some very unique glass technology or ruggedization capabilities. And so I think what we'll see is partners start to take their unique capabilities â how they could bring that either together with other partners to create a unique device, or maybe they're at the ODM or the contract manufacturer level and would build a reference design or a platform ideally that multiple OEMs could brand together with other devices or specific content.
The kind of thing Microsoft does, if you look at our history of how we've enabled this, firstly we bring a fairly big brand and marketing platform. The second thing, if you think about the Holographic platform, is we bring a store. So the ability for partners to build hardware and then have access to a lot of content that obviously will sit in the one store across Windows 10, now they can start to monetize their device very easily with their unique capability rather than have to go off and build a store and a billing engine. Different parts of the ecosystem have got opportunities to build their unique capability into a device, or actually into a component within a device, then in terms of taking it to market, and then content with a single store and development platform, we have all the tools that will help them. It's usually those three things that we find can build a great platform and ecosystem success."
Ecosystem building hasn't necessarily been Microsoft's strength in recent years; the Windows Store hasn't taken off on mobile or PC. But Windows Holographic is nothing if not ambitious, and represents a real effort on the company’s part to push this future model of computing forward.