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Microsoft has announced that their Windows Holographic Platform is opening up to developers, enabling them to not only build apps with augmented reality and virtual reality capabilities through devices like HoloLens, but also to build their own AR and VR hardware that automatically works with the latest Windows operating system.
Engadget did a detailed rundown of the new Windows Holographic Platform, which will basically work as a virtual reality or augmented reality API that will be baked into Windows 10, enabling developers to instantly have support for their VR or AR hardware when it's used on Microsoft's Windows platform.
Right now VR software on PC and mobile platforms is fragmented; even more-so for AR software. The whole point of the Windows Holographic Platform is to make it easier for hardware manufacturers to have support for their VR headsets, and for software makers to make it easy for hardware makers to take advantage of VR from a central operating ecosystem. No more fragmentation.
At the moment, PC developers either have to build their games with Oculus Rift support or with SteamVR support. SteamVR is a lot more versatile and allows software to run on the Rift, HTC Vive or other compatible headsets, but Facebook has the Rift's ecosystem locked down pretty tight, using a walled garden approach similar to Apple and their iPhones, Macs and tablets.
While SteamVR is definitely more open than the Oculus Rift, it still locks developers into using the Steam platform. Instead of being walled in on an application level, Microsoft is hoping to use the Windows Holographic Platform to expand the walls to the OS level, thus giving developers free reign with hardware and software without being locked into specific applications.
Bringing VR support and AR support to the top level through an operating system is an ambitious move by Microsoft. It means that they really want to embrace the future of the alternate reality market, no matter who is making the hardware.
Engadget tries to drive home the point that while Microsoft may have the HoloLens, they're using it more as a prototype to build software support for other AR and VR devices as opposed to trying to get into the VR/AR consumer market with the HoloLens itself.
Earlier in the year Microsoft had made HoloLens developer prototypes available for $3,000 per devkit. While this seemed like a ridiculous price and clearly something that the average consumer would not be willing to pay, it's all starting to look a lot more clear in terms of what Microsoft's goals are with the HoloLens: it's just a conduit that they're using to get more studios, developers and hardware manufacturers to adopt the Windows Holographic Platform and, in turn, get more people to adopt the latest Windows OS as the go-to software platform for VR and AR productivity and entertainment.
It's actually a brilliant move from Microsoft since they're hoping to leverage the overall popularity of alternate reality devices and software, as opposed to trying to throw their lot in with a specific device or a specific software application. This means that it doesn't matter if the Rift or the Vive comes out on top (or even the GearVR), Microsoft will still win if developers, manufacturers and product makers adopt the Windows Holographic Platform. The only potential foil to their plan is Sony's PlayStation VR, which is being pegged by analysts to be the wild card in the VR race, and a potential breakthrough for making VR a mainstream sector in the consumer market.
For now, VR and AR looks to have a very competitive and interesting road ahead of it, and Microsoft appears to want to be at the cusp of its embrace using their Windows Holographic Platform. Fun times ahead.