Almost four years to date since Microsoft began shipping the first HoloLens developer kits, its AR headset hardly set the tech world alight. Not that anyone but the most optimistic of Redmond’s aficionados (read: shareholders) expected otherwise. No, the surprising part is that the HoloLens actually lived to see its fourth anniversary. A senior Xbox executive revealed as much this week while announcing they’re leaving Microsoft’s gaming business to join that very same HoloLens team.
Next-gen gaming: Microsoft’s next big AR opportunity
William “Bill” Stillwell, a company veteran of nearly two decades, said the transition has been in the making for some time now. The main takeaway being he’s seemingly on board with leaving Xbox for HoloLens, i.e. the switch isn’t a sign of some last-ditch restructuring efforts. Microsoft’s proponents might argue that mixed-reality is an extremely tough sell even today, so in a way, the cards were always stacked against the HoloLens project. Nonetheless, today’s dire state of affairs in the AR and MR niches can in large part be traced back to Microsoft’s failures in the segment, particularly regarding its inability to deliver somewhat accessible mixed-reality hardware.
As a result, HoloLens adoption rates remained largely grim until the sequel appeared early last year, sporting an unimaginative HoloLens 2 moniker followed by a $500 price increase. A cool $3,500 for a bleeding-edge headset that looks as close as humanity can possibly get to UIs from Minority Report may not be the worst deal ever, though it bluntly illustrates how far away the HoloLens remains from consumer-grade applications.
Yet a new push toward consumers is precisely what Microsoft’s AR unit is now expected to make in the near future. Taking a renowned project planning lead from Xbox and xCloud would hardly make sense otherwise, even if Stillwell begged for the move for whatever reason. At the end of the day, he’s not the kind of guy to stand on the sidelines, so if he’s joining HoloLens, Microsoft must be about to double down on its AR and mixed-reality ambitions – and there’s arguably no way to do that in the near term without turning to the video games industry. Speaking of which, the next big gaming integration opportunity for the HoloLens should be here rather soon. Namely, following about half a decade’s worth of development, the dev team behind Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 has been pursuing VR and related tech since last year.