Microsoft has announced that it is deprecating Windows Mixed Reality, its virtual reality (VR) platform for Windows. This move effectively ends Microsoft’s ambitions in the consumer VR space.
Windows Mixed Reality to be Removed from Windows
Windows Mixed Reality was introduced in 2017 as a core feature of Windows 10. It allowed users to access VR experiences using headsets from a variety of manufacturers without the need for external sensors.
However, Microsoft has now added Windows Mixed Reality to the Windows Features on Demand (FOD) deprecated features list. This means that it will no longer receive new feature updates and will eventually be removed from Windows altogether in a future release.
“Windows Mixed Reality reached end of support on October 10th, 2023. The feature will be removed in a future update.”
– Microsoft Support Article
This move comes despite Microsoft positioning Windows Mixed Reality as a key feature that would help drive adoption of both Windows 10 and VR technology. The company had ambitious plans to bring VR to the masses.
Why is Microsoft Backing Away from VR?
Industry observers have pointed to several factors that likely influenced Microsoft’s decision:
Lackluster sales – Windows Mixed Reality headsets never gained much consumer traction. Though models were affordable and worked with a range of PC hardware, most consumers opted for alternatives like the Oculus Quest.
Focus on enterprise/business use cases – Microsoft is finding more success selling its HoloLens headset to enterprises. Backing away from consumer VR likely reflects a shift to focus resources here.
Competitive pressures – Other players like Meta are aggressively pushing into VR/AR with massive investments. Microsoft likely struggled to justify competing in the space.
Timeline of Windows Mixed Reality
Windows Mixed Reality has gone through ups and downs since its unveiling over 5 years ago:
|Microsoft announces Windows Holographic and partnership with OEMs to build VR headsets for Windows 10
|First Windows MR headsets released by partners like Acer, Dell, and Lenovo
|Major Windows 10 update adds ability to access SteamVR content
|Microsoft releases high-end HP Reverb G2 headset co-developed with Valve and HP
|Microsoft cancels second-gen self-branded VR headset reportedly in development
|Mainstream support ends for Windows Mixed Reality
|Microsoft adds Windows MR to deprecated features list, announces plans to remove it from Windows
The platform showed initial promise, with multiple headsets released targeting various price points. But Microsoft’s updates to the platform slowed over time as enthusiasm waned. This year saw support discontinued before the company decided to scrap it altogether.
What Happens to Existing Headsets and Content?
Microsoft has confirmed that existing Windows Mixed Reality headsets will continue to function after the platform is removed from Windows. However, they will stop receiving updates. Functionality will eventually degrade over time as the headsets cease to work properly with new Windows versions.
The company notes that apps and games built specifically for Windows Mixed Reality will break after the platform is removed. Many games designed for other VR platforms like SteamVR will continue working thanks to a compatibility layer, but this is not guaranteed long-term.
Overall there is significant uncertainty about ongoing support for hardware and content after Windows Mixed Reality gets eliminated. Microsoft’s backing away puts the entire third-party ecosystem built around their VR platform on shaky ground.
Microsoft Shifts Focus to HoloLens/Enterprise AR
Though Microsoft failed to kickstart a VR revolution on consumer Windows PCs, the company remains committed to developing augmented reality solutions for enterprise use cases.
The Microsoft HoloLens headset has found niche success in industrial settings. The company recently secured a major $21.9 billion contract with the U.S. Army to supply augmented reality headsets and software.
“We remain committed to HoloLens and future HoloLens development.”
Focusing on the more practical near-term potential of AR and enterprise applications rather than grand consumer VR ambitions reflects the new path Microsoft is charting. Still, the abrupt about-face and decision to demolish years of work building Windows Mixed Reality leaves some questioning Microsoft’s strategy.
What Does This Mean for the VR Industry?
While Microsoft is stepping back from the consumer VR space, the overall industry continues pushing forward at a rapid pace:
- Meta is investing billions into developing the metaverse and claims to have sold over 15 million Quest headsets
- Apple is rumored to be launching its own high-end VR/AR headset next year
- Sony continues finding success with its PlayStation VR headset for the PS5
- New startups keep emerging and raising funding to take fresh approaches to VR software and hardware
So while Windows Mixed Reality fades away, there remains healthy competition and innovation happening globally in virtual and augmented reality technology. Microsoft’s resources and technical talent shifting focus exclusively to develop HoloLens also promises advancements in practical enterprise use cases for many years to come.
The demise of Windows Mixed Reality ends the company’s foray into consumer VR but does not mark the end of Microsoft’s broader ambitions in shaping immersive computing platforms of the future to improve how we work, create, communicate, and experience the world.
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