3 Reasons Why the Windows Mixed Reality Platform Will Revolutionize VR - And 3 Reasons Why It'll Flop

by Kristen Hanich | Oct. 6, 2017

There's been a lot of hype around Microsoft's new Mixed Reality platform, set to debut mid-October. It's built on HoloLens technology, the futuristic augmented reality headset that Microsoft first showed off in 2015. Top PC makers - such as Lenovo, HP, Acer, Dell, and Samsung - have all announced they would be shipping headsets. But what can we expect from it - success, or failure?

Why the Windows Mixed Reality platform will be a success

1.) The price is right.

The desktop virtual reality market as it is, is dominated by two big players - Oculus and HTC. In a recent survey Steam, a popular online game store, found that 50% of its desktop VR users used an HTC Vive, with the Oculus Rift accounting for another 47%. The Vive launched at $799 USD and the system currently costs $600, not counting a VR-capable PC. The Windows Mixed Reality headsets? They start at $299 - half the price of a Vive. The Windows Mixed Reality headsets are also compatible with lower specced PCs than what the Vive and Rift require, opening up a much wider potential audience.

 2.) The experience is smoother.

 When you buy an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, you receive a package including your headset, a motion controller, and a set of several base stations. The base stations need to be installed properly - mounted on the wall in an ideal location - in order for these devices' motion-tracking functionality to work, and for you to actually be able to move and orient yourself in VR. The Windows Mixed Reality headsets, on the other hand, use a technology called "inside-out tracking" that allows the headsets to directly monitor the position of the controllers without needing an additional device. This means no installation is necessary - you just plug in your headset and go.

3.) They (finally) have the apps.

The HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift both support SteamVR from the Steam online game store. This gives these headsets access to tens of thousands of Steam titles. The Windows Mixed Reality platform will launch with support for SteamVR, as well as with support for over 20K apps and games from Microsoft's Windows Store. This includes the cross-platform AltspaceVR, a social VR platform Microsoft recently acquired.

Microsoft does a lot of things - cloud, services, operating systems - and games. It runs an app store for Windows 10 that works across PCs, Xboxs, phones - and Mixed Reality devices. It already offers a feature called Xbox Play Anywhere, where title purchases are shared between the PC and Xbox - users buy once, play on any of their devices, and progress is synced regardless of where the user last played. Microsoft has previously signaled that it's preparing to launch VR on the Xbox in 2018 - this may mean that a user can just buy a VR title for their PC, then also play it on their Xbox once VR is supported.

 Why the Windows Mixed Reality platform will flop

1.) VR is still new.

According to Parks Associates' data, overall VR adoption is pretty low. By far the most commonly used VR platforms are on mobile devices, such as the Samsung Gear VR. Very few consumers have ever experienced desktop VR, and many may have to be convinced to buy into the experience. This will require marketing - and lots of it - as well as demonstrations at popular tech stores like Best Buy. That brings us to point 2…

2.) Microsoft has a consumer branding problem.

Remember Lumia? Microsoft Band? Zune/Xbox Music/Groove Music's streaming service? All of these brands had a small but dedicated following, who mostly discovered them on their own as there was very little to no marketing promoting them. These brands are all also dead, because, not so surprisingly, consumer brands with little to no marketing don't tend to become profitable. Microsoft's Surface line - and its turnaround - is one of the company's few exceptions to this trend. We don't know which category the Mixed Reality platform will fall into yet. If Microsoft tries to rely on its headset OEMs for marketing, its Mixed Reality platform may very well end up the same as its smartphone platform. And speaking of smartphones…

3.) Mobile is coming.

The PC market as a whole is shrinking, and has been for a while. Mobile, meanwhile, is growing - and more and more people are going mobile-only every year. Mobile VR platforms such as the Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream, and even AR platforms such as Apple's ARKit may be "good-enough" for a large percentage of Microsoft's intended audience - and as companies such as Oculus and Google gear up to release low-cost standalone VR headsets built on top of their mobile VR platforms, it isn't only those with flagship-level phones that can experience mobile VR.

The conclusion

There are a lot of things going for Microsoft's Mixed Reality platform. It's open, accessible, and has wide support from hardware OEMs and third-party stores and applications. It may very well be the tipping point for consumer VR - launching it into the mainstream. However, this will depend on how much marketing and support Microsoft and its OEMs throw into it - even the most technically perfect product will not survive without good consumer branding.



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