During the launch event for HoloLens, Microsoft’s augmented reality headset, CEO Satya Nadella said something that should act as a lens through which to view the headset: “Our industry’s progress is punctuated by moments of category creation. Windows 10 and holographic computing is one such moment.”
This belief — that HoloLens could be responsible for the progress of the entire technology industry — is why the headset, and the Windows Holographic platform, could be the start of a revolution within computing that would see Microsoft at the forefront.
Brain Blau, an analyst for Gartner, told Business Insider in an email that “there is potential for disruption with Hololens but it will be a slow rise vs. a fast takeover.”
The iPhone has taken less than a decade to reach its market dominating position but HoloLens will take longer. “It could take another 10 or 20 years before immersive technology has that broad of an impact,” Blau said.
Making up for the mobile miss
Through a series of missteps and unfortunate events, Microsoft missed out on mobile almost entirely. Windows phones — almost all of which are made by Microsoft — account for roughly 2% of the smartphone market, or around 77 million units, according to data from IDC and Gartner provided to Business Insider.
However, the Surface line of tablets generated $US888 million (£574 million) in revenue during the fourth financial quarter of 2015 (which Microsoft measures in July), making it a growing success. The knowledge gleaned from Surface — from supply chain to marketing — can be used on HoloLens.
While Blau predicts that it will take a long time for HoloLens to succeed, other analysts are more bullish.
Ramon Llamas, a researcher for IDC, told Business Insider that “I think what we can say right now is that Microsoft has a very compelling solution and a number of assets,” which includes Windows. “[Microsoft] is targeting both enterprise and consumer users [and] it’s trying to judge interest.”
Microsoft isn’t alone in pursuing augmented — or virtual — realities. Facebook spent over $US2 billion (£1.3 billion) on Oculus, the company behind the Rift; Sony has been working away at the PlayStation VR; Samsung has teamed up with Oculus to create the Gear VR; and both Apple and Google have almost certainly researched the area, just not in public.
“Having tried it, the device itself is very compelling and very low latency,” Llamas said. Some users of Oculus’ Rift have reported feeling sea-sick or nauseous during usage and Microsoft is working hard to prevent any adverse affects, according to Llamas. If the company wants to get enterprise customers on-board — many of whom are “curious,” according to Blau — then imperfections must be gone.
The Windows advantage
One advantage Microsoft has over its competitors is Windows.
“The secret sauce is Universal Apps on Windows 10,” Llamas said. “Microsoft has an ‘ace in the hole’ [with] all of the Microsoft branded apps,” which include Office.
“The popularity of Office is still tremendous. Work that across Skype and Cortana and [it] is going to help set HoloLens a couple of steps ahead of everybody else.”
But one thing that could trip up Microsoft is its marketing messaging.
Panos Panay, the man behind the Surface range, admitted that the messaging surrounding the original Surface launch was wrong and hurt the product. For HoloLens to succeed, the company needs to nail how anyone — from normal consumers to businesses — perceive the headset.
“Messaging is absolutely critical,” Llamas told BI. “Consumers and enterprise users want to know what they are going to get themselves into.”
So far, every public demo of HoloLens has been on-stage in a controlled environment. “[Microsoft] has only done a few public demos so there isn’t much there yet,” Blau said.
“The use cases, in theory, can be bridged to multiple vertical marketers into multiple applications,” Llamas said. “The power and potential is there but it is
potential and the one thing that is missing is the end users.”
To attract these users, Microsoft must pitch the product perfectly. (Cast your mind back to how Steve Jobs repeatedly stressed the iPhone was “an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator” during the 2007 unveiling. The message was set.)
Ultimately, HoloLens is “not going to be something that [Microsoft] can just ‘hit the switch on and a thousand flowers bloom,'” Llamas says.
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