Microsoft is partnering with Samsung to build a ‘mixed reality’ empire

Microsoft is partnering with Samsung to build a ‘mixed reality’ empire

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Microsoft HoloLens headsets in use at the International Frankfurt Motor Show last month. Samsung just unveiled its own HoloLens technology.
Microsoft HoloLens headsets in use at the International Frankfurt Motor Show last month. Samsung just unveiled its own HoloLens technology.

Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

Microsoft beat Apple in the world of desktop operating systems because it allowed many manufacturers to make Windows PCs. Now the company thinks the same business model will help it dominate “mixed reality” — its name for the HoloLens headset tech, which can in theory handle both augmented reality (think Apple’s ARKit, where you get to see digital objects in the real world) and totally enclosed virtual reality (think Oculus Rift). 

A boost for the world-conquering-with-allies strategy was announced Tuesday: Samsung is officially joining forces with Microsoft on a mixed reality Windows headset on sale next month. A slew of other major manufacturers have begun pre-orders for their own HoloLens headsets, which arrive on Oct. 17 alongside the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. 

At an event in San Francisco intended as a mixed-reality kickoff, Microsoft also went all-in on gaming — unveiling a Halo VR demo called Halo Recruit, and announcing that Valve’s Virtual Reality offerings would be coming to the Windows mixed reality platform. 

When the world’s largest handset manufacturer joins forces with the world’s most widespread operating system, it’s  game-changing

The Samsung headset, called the HMD Odyssey, leaked earlier in the day when its product page accidentally appeared on the Microsoft store. It costs $499 — a little more than other mixed-reality headsets coming from Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Acer later this month — but also with higher-quality visuals (a vivid OLED screen rather than boring old LED). 

The goal was to “create a high-performing headset that’s easy to set up and can transport people to the incredible world of virtual reality,” said Alanna Cotton, Vice President and General Manager, Samsung Electronics America, who appeared via VR. “We’re excited to partner with Microsoft to shape the future of virtual reality.”

That last sentence was more than marketing pablum. When the world’s largest handset manufacturer joins forces with the makers of what is still the world’s most widespread operating system, it’s a game-changing event for a young and still unformed industry. Google and Facebook (which owns Oculus) are all in on VR, Apple is all in on AR, but increasingly it looks like MR — Microsoft and its motorbike gang of manufacturers — will eat all of their lunches.

The key to all these headsets, and to Microsoft’s probable dominance in this sphere: ease of use. If you’ve played with a VR rig from Oculus or the HTC Vive, you know about the time-consuming setup, which includes identifying the boundaries of the room. With HoloLens tech running a headset, all you need to do is connect it via USB and HDMI cables to a machine running the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update released on Oct. 17: Setup is automatic. 

To steal an old Apple slogan, as Windows’ VR visionary Alex Kipman did repeatedly at the event: It just works.

That’s the idea, at least. We’ll go hands-on with Samsung’s mixed-reality headset, so check back for our first-look impressions from Microsoft’s  unveiling.

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