Windows Mixed Reality: Microsoft breathes new life into VR

Though the VR hype has subsided a bit, Microsoft is striving to breathe new life into the technology with mixed reality. We took a closer look at the system and the five headsets at IFA, although they are actually virtual reality headsets. This is the first of a two-part article series starting with an introduction to the platform.

What exactly is Mixed Reality?

Most people are probably familiar with virtual and augmented reality – if that’s not the case for you, we have listed the basic differences in a separate article.

So what exactly is mixed reality (MR)? According to Microsoft, it is essentially a mix of both. To some extent, mixed reality is more powerful than augmented reality, because the mix of both worlds provides greater application scenarios. The HoloLens is a perfect example.

AndroidPIT Microsoft Hololens 0482 HoloLens is paving the way for Mixed Reality. / © AndroidPIT

Five manufacturers are now rolling out mixed reality headsets with the Microsoft technology. But: They are in fact virtual reality headsets. Its foundation lies in the name of the Windows Mixed Reality content platform and its technology. At the IFA keynote, Microsoft spoke very candidly about having developed VR headsets with its partners. Mixed reality is actually not possible with these mixed reality headsets, although the tracking technology is derived from HoloLens.

In any case, Microsoft’s VR platform is based on the previous work that we are already familiar with from HoloLens. To summarize: HoloLens and the new VR headsets are two manifestations of a platform that Microsoft calls mixed reality. From here on, we will also call the headsets mixed reality headsets because they were developed for this platform.

AndroidPIT ASUS Windows Mixed Reality Headset 8061 Luis tries out Asus’s mixed reality headset. / © AndroidPIT

Mixed Reality: How the system is designed

Microsoft designed the mixed reality platform to work even with low system requirements – the integrated graphics cards of some processors should be enough. As some manufacturers have confirmed to us at IFA, performance is also based on the purpose of the content. SteamVR games should also work as of the beginning of mid-October – you’ll need to meet the normal system requirements for PC-based VR to do so though.

mixed reality inside 1 Look inside a real model of Microsoft’s mixed reality home. / © AndroidPIT

The mixed reality platform is mainly intended for educational, entertainment and productivity applications, which in turn are not so hardware-intensive as VR games. In many respects, Vive and Oculus do not have new competition, and they mainly remain unbeaten in tracking.

Microsoft’s mixed reality: First moments

When you step into mixed reality, you will first find yourself inside a house that you can roam through. Each room represents different activities – you can play videos in the living room, and play vacation films on the terrace (with a view of the ocean). An internet browser is hanging on the wall in the home office, and there are also games.

mixed reality inside 3 A similar view inside Microsoft’s mixed reality. / © AndroidPIT

Browsing the web in VR? Yes, you can. And after trying it out, its navigation makes it easy do so. Of course, the font display is not as clear as on a classic desktop browser, but the sheer size of the window is definitely a boon for image and video-heavy websites. Accurately clicking on links worked using the motion controllers, and we used Microsoft’s Edge browser, whose VR counterpart shares settings like bookmarks with the desktop version.

mixed reality inside 2 Windows mixed reality: A VR platform with a bright future. / © AndroidPIT

Moving through the virtual house is done in two ways: One way is via teleport. This movement is probably the most pleasant and mainly suited for VR beginners: If you press the analog stick on one controller, an arrow appears that can be positioned in the VR world by looking and using the small stick. When you release the stick, you teleport to the desired area – you only need to do it twice to master it. Alternatively, there is also the option of triggering direct movement steps with the stick. It is significantly more taxing and can induce some nausea.

All in all, the mixed reality platform’s house metaphor looks very intuitive. It remains to be seen whether users will find such a polished environment useful and it’s unclear how flexibly the system is designed. It would be great if users could adapt the house to their own needs.

Do you think there is anything exciting in mixed reality technology as opposed to full VR? Can you think of any applications for this technology in your everyday life? 


In part two of this story, you’ll read our impressions of several headsets. These articles are a collaboration between Luis, Benoit and Hans-Georg.

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Andromeda OS replaces Windows 10 Mobile – back to square one

Something Windows 10 Mobile-related is going on behind the scenes at Microsoft, but it’s not what fans had hoped for. Although the smartphone operating system will still be supported for a while, its core has been discontinued and will no longer be updated. Enter Andromeda OS, the new hope.

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The separation of Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile development has been made, and it is consistent. Microsoft no longer needs its own system in the mobile area, since another software will run on upcoming devices – irrespective of how identical they will look: Andromeda OS.

As rumored by Microsoft insiders at Windows Central and elsewhere, the smartphone system will be discontinued at the Redstone 2 update level, but will continue to be provided with security and stability updates and, possibly, new functions for companies. New Windows 10 APIs that are part of the Redstone 3 and 4 updates will still be made backwards-compatible so as to not completely cut off app support. The platform cores for PC and smartphones will no longer be developed together, but instead will be done separately – PC Windows marches on, and the smartphone will be discontinued. New Microsoft mobile devices, which will surely be released in the coming years, will then run Andromeda OS.

AndroidPIT e reading 0916 Windows 10 Mobile did not stand a chance against Android. / © ANDROIDPIT

Andromeda OS as a modular system

The name Andromeda for an operating system should also ring a bell for many Android fans. Google had been working on merging Android and Chrome OS under this name for quite some time to bring both platforms closer together. Work on Google’s Andromeda ceased in the summer, and now the hope lies in its successor, Fuchsia. But that’s just a brief foray, since Microsoft’s approach with Andromeda OS is ultimately different.

Microsoft’s Andromeda OS – as it is called internally, the final product will have a different name – will be a modular operating system that is naturally based on Windows. The goal is to decouple individual parts of the platform from the overall design in order to run on many kinds of devices. A standalone mobile system would be obsolete.

At first, it makes sense, but there’s a serious catch for Windows smartphone fans: There will be no update for currently up-to-date Windows smartphones. This is understandable in light of the few models that are still being sold and the ever-shrinking market share that Windows 10 mobile still has, particularly as the last Lumia smartphones have already been on the market for too long and no new Windows phones have since been released – neither by Microsoft nor other manufacturers.

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What’s next now for the Lumias and other Windows smartphones? They will still receive security and stability updates until the middle/end of 2018. Even individual new functions can be pushed by Microsoft relatively easily. However, if Windows 10 makes the next big leap and the API interfaces are no longer compatible, Windows 10 mobile will start running out of steam quite quickly. Lumia fans are already familiar with this from the unfortunate update to Windows Phone 7.8, when Microsoft was considerate of existing devices and sent a type of consolation update and subsequently put it on ice. Of course, Windows 10 Mobile is no longer making money; if anything, it is a large loss-making business for the few remaining customers. So, while it won’t kick the bucket tomorrow, the end can clearly be seen on the horizon.

Back to square one and starting from scratch

If Microsoft is serious with this, its reboot with Andromeda OS will be pretty exciting. The market is still open to operating systems that work beyond platform boundaries and power diverse types of devices. Windows 10 could have been exactly that but, for a number of reasons, it didn’t happen. So, back to square one and a new attempt with Andromeda OS, but we hope that Microsoft makes it count, too.

What do you think? Would you buy a Windows phone in the future if it’s running Andromeda OS? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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