News from the Metaverse Operating System

Wow, October 2016 sure was the month of announcements for mixed reality. The PlayStationVR hit the market, Google Daydream was shown the first time, updates from Oculus and HTC and the three big AR-HMD players have new presentations, rumors and patens floating around in the media. Obviously there are more AR players – but I think we can agree that most media attention is drawn to Microsoft´s Hololens, Meta´s activities and MagicLeap´s unknown hardware.

I`ve relocated to Spain and was offline on the blog for a bit. Time to catch up and take up the loose ends: last week sure was Microsoft´s chance to shine! Time to take a recap look and think about the future of AR integration into computer systems and our lives.

Holographic Operating System for everyone

During their presentation Microsoft showed the “Creator´s update” to better support the creative workflow from A to Z. They showed their new Apple-ish Surface computers with some gadgets like the Dials and focussed on the story of creating some 3D asset with an updated version of all-time classic Paint (now in 3D). PowerPoint, Word, Edge come with full 3D integration and give the user more confusion freedom when creating their presentations. During the well polished presentation all went flawless (hasn´t always been the case with Microsoft shows) and the story worked to show off their updates. Why is it worth to mention? Well, they showed nicely how they see the future of their operating system! Microsoft wants us to easily switch between modes. Be it looking at a 2D screen, using a AR Hololens to place virtual chairs into our living room before buying them or… using the system in virtual reality with new VR hardware devices! Check out the part of the show:

The new VR devices are to be build by 3rd parties like HP, Lenovo, Dell, Asus and Acer, starting at a surprisingly low $299. So, Microsoft is stepping forward into VR and giving away the hardware sales to partners once again! The hopefully great thing for us to profit from: Microsoft seems to give away their inside-out tracking from the Hololens system for free! All VR devices will be able to locate themselves with six degrees of freedom without additional lighthouse or other external tracking systems. Considering that John Carmack and Oculus are always just chatting about “how great it would be” to have it done, Microsoft got the job done already.

Microsoft surely tries to establish Windows 10 as the platform for mixed reality. Like the earlier demos like HoloTours presented they want to make the switch easy – from AR to VR to flatland screens… and this is definitely a wise move. I recon the renaissance of their operating system! (Well, okok, it never went away.) Only this way we can dream about throwing our screens and smartphones out of the window one day – to use a Holographic Windows with slim HMDs or other wearables!

But obviously Microsoft is not alone…

Meta is working on their answer to the Hololens, though it is not that public yet. Their CEO Meron Gribetz claims that people are way more productive when working (and living) with spatial computing and being able to address more things in three dimensions. After a period of getting used to it you unleash unknown potential. They show their studies with an example of 3D AR instructions winning over classic 2D paper instructions in their latest video.

To not stop in theory they just stated that all Meta workers will have to wear the Meta helmet glasses for their work day and remove all 2D screens from the office! This should really show their trust in their product and also give everyday guinea pig data to improve on user interaction, comfort design, etc. Hope they get it right, shrink it and give out DEV kits soon enough! After all the competitors are also moving forward.

Leaping into Europe

Yeah, exactly. Magic Leap also keeps up with new rumors – but also with some new facts. All the time people are scanning the web for new openings at Magic Leap or scan for new patents. Well, yeah, there are! Slimmer designs of their prototype seen on patent pictures, open job positions for logistics and distribution, etc. Does it mean they are getting ready to ship their initial DEV kit soon? Rumors were hoping for a presentation at CES 2017 in January. But now Andy Fouché from Magic Leap confirms that they won´t show their prototype there. – But maybe later in 2017? Who knows… CEO Rony Abovitz just recently tweeted:

“We just achieved a number of major product dev milestones; things are full on exciting”

They opened up a new office in Helsinki, Finland (Hei suomi!) where a lot of mobile power (Nokia, etc.) and computer vision talents are around. Their jump over the big pond might start a new phase getting closer to the ultimate computer…. rumors also state that they are also working on their own operating system. Will they be completely independent from established operating systems? For now it feels unlikely (Magic Leap supporting Unity and Unreal running on Windows)…

When do we laugh at flatland computing?

As written during my last post (reviewing the Hololens long-term) I do believe that spatial computing with AR will have major impact on our way we work with computers, data, be creative and interact and communicate with others. There is just no doubt about it anymore (I´d say). But let´s see how quickly all can happen. Still seems that VR is next and AR can and must continue to learn from their failures and success stories. Seems like marketing and media is currently over-hyping the progress that has been made and will come within the next 12 month. Well, let´s see how quickly we step forward.

Having an new (open?) mixed reality platform – but maybe with a completely new operating system codebase below – sure seems the best to win the race as a software and content provider. With the little information we have today it really feels that Microsoft made smart choices the last years and is ahead of the competitors for now. The transition with a blend of old-school 2D Windows 10 applications towards Holographic seems a very valid strategy as of now. Even if some things are still cumbersome (air-typing, bloom´ing around for task switches)… time to work on improvements on the way.

Can´t wait to work entirely in mixed reality – be it with any M-company from Meta, Microsoft, Magic Leap or some unknown upcoming new big player. Happy to choose! But ideally we have an open metaverse that is compatible between hardware and software companies of today and tomorrow… It feels so narrow-minded to close the systems again when we are standing at the edge of a new computing era!