Microsoft’s Odyssey: Tracing the Ups and Downs of Windows Mixed Reality in the Augmented Reality Arena

by | Dec 28, 2023

Microsoft’s entry into the mixed reality space with Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) initially seemed promising in the fast-paced world of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). However, recent developments have raised doubts about the future of this once ambitious project.

WMR goggles were initially positioned as a cheaper alternative to Microsoft’s flagship HoloLens, aiming to revolutionize the market by providing an affordable and accessible AR experience. Major hardware manufacturers such as HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer joined forces with Microsoft to develop WMR devices, and later, Samsung also joined.

Despite the initial optimism, WMR hardware failed to gain traction in the market. Both developers and consumers showed little interest, resulting in disappointing sales. Even Microsoft’s renowned Xbox team, known for their innovation and gaming expertise, displayed a lack of enthusiasm for the platform. This underperformance dealt a significant blow to Microsoft’s ambitions in the consumer market.

To compound Microsoft’s challenges, Apple announced the upcoming release of Vision Pro, a direct competitor to HoloLens, scheduled for 2024. While Microsoft had a head start with HoloLens, the entrance of a rival product from tech giant Apple could further undermine the struggling WMR.

In 2022, the departure of Alex Kipman, the head of Microsoft’s Mixed Reality division, added further uncertainty to the future of HoloLens and WMR. With no signs of a successor to the HoloLens 2, doubts emerged regarding Microsoft’s commitment to the mixed reality market. Microsoft’s admission that WMR has no future within the company only deepened the uncertainty surrounding the platform.

In an effort to streamline their focus, Microsoft recently announced the deprecation of Windows Mixed Reality. The platform, including the Mixed Reality Portal application, WMR for SteamVR, and the Steam VR Beta, will be discontinued in a future release of the operating system. Consumer support for WMR will end by November 2026, followed by commercial support by November 2027.

Although HoloLens, which operates independently of a Windows PC, will continue to receive support due to a significant order from the US Army, the future beyond that remains unclear.

The demise of WMR has raised questions about Microsoft’s strategy in the AR market. While HoloLens influenced certain concepts incorporated into WMR hardware, it appears that the platform failed to capture the attention of developers and consumers.

The lack of interest in WMR was further highlighted by the discontinuation of AltspaceVR and the closure of the Mixed Reality Tool Kit (MRTK) in 2023. These actions indicate a shift in Microsoft’s priorities and a recognition that WMR is not gaining the expected traction.

Looking back, WMR aimed to deliver a seamless AR experience by integrating users’ Windows 10 or 11 PCs with an AR headset. The platform targeted both productivity applications and gaming, but it fell short of expectations.

As the mixed reality market continues to evolve, Microsoft’s struggles with WMR serve as a valuable lesson. They emphasize the complexities of introducing new technologies and highlight the importance of understanding market demand and consumer preferences.

While the future of Windows Mixed Reality remains uncertain, the knowledge gained from this venture will undoubtedly shape Microsoft’s approach to AR and VR going forward. As technology advances, only time will reveal which companies successfully navigate the ever-changing landscape of mixed reality.