The rise and fall of Windows Mixed Reality

The rise and fall of Windows Mixed Reality

As regular readers will know I love Windows Mixed Reality and would love to see it blossom in 2020. Over the last couple of years I have been following the rise and subsequent fall of Windows Mixed Reality with consumers using the monthly SteamVR surveys as a guide. When Microsoft enabled SteamVR support the Steam survey gave us the chance to track Windows Mixed Reality usage and while it’s not a very scientific survey (not everybody gets surveyed) it does give us an indication of popularity of Microsoft’s VR system.

2019 started with WMR at 8.89% and hit a high of 11.13% in June. Unfortunately by end of the year the usage dropped to 4.75% Update: The current survey (Jan 2020) shows a recalculated value of 8%. What were the reasons for the drop? I think it’s a combination of factors:

Limited availability of headsets

When Windows Mixed Reality launched there were headsets from Acer, Lenovo, HP, Samsung and Dell and they were available from the usual places like Amazon and retails like Currys here in the UK. At the start of the year Currys stopped selling the headsets and in 2019 Amazon had limited availability on all the devices. At the time of writing the 2018 Lenovo Explorer I have is currently £599 on Amazon, the original launch price was £399 and during 2018 it was on offer for around £200. I can’t see anybody paying nearly £600 for a 2 year old VR headset.

The Acer AH101 (its first gen headset) is listed at £442 on Amazon, Dell’s for £497 and Samsung’s headsets are not available. The chances of coming across a WMR headset in a retail store is extremely remote you are not going to see one where as you will see devices from Oculus. If you do want a headset then the Microsoft Store in the UK sells the HP set for £379.99 which is a brilliant price but at least you can get one there.

Limited launches of new headsets

Acer announced a new headset in 2019 called the Concept OJO but the device hasn’t shown up yet and has probably been cancelled. What it did launch in 2019 was the OJO 500, originally announced in 2018. A search on Amazon didn’t find any results and even Acer don’t know where it’s on sale:

HP launched a new headset in 2019 and it had many issues getting the Reverb on the market in during the year. Announced back in March there many delays before the headsets starting going out to consumers. The HP Reverb is aimed at business and commercial applications rather than the home users and comes in at £598 on HP UK’s site and £552 on Amazon UK. It’s a great headset but pricey for the average VR gamer.

No marketing from Microsoft

After the initial push in 2018 I haven’t spotted any marketing from Microsoft. I think they do have a tendency to forget about their VR platform. If you seem them talking about Mixed Reality it will be a HoloLens 2. Microsoft seem to be very much focused on HoloLens 2 and not on their VR headsets which is very much in line with their enterprise focus and let’s face it that is where the money is so you can understand the motivation.

Competing systems

Over the last year the competing devices have seemed to have all the marketing, there was the launch of standalone Oculus Quest and the updated Oculus Rift S. They seem to have the mindshare and the usage on their side.

On the plus side

Windows Mixed Reality is a unique system. As well as being able to play games from the Microsoft Store and Steam you can multi-task apps and access standard desktop apps in Windows Mixed Reality. You can browsing the web in the new Edge browser, reading your emails and playing a game at the same time. You can watch 8k videos from Youtube in 360 and play most of the VR games on SteamVR.

Microsoft continue to work on the user interface and add features to the platform, as well as improving the performance of the devices. Windows Mixed Reality is simple to use and easy to setup, you don’t need special fixed room setups.

It’s understandable that Microsoft focus on HoloLens 2, VR for consumers is still very much a niche and hasn’t exploded like many hoped, but I would like them to build on what they have already created. Much of HoloLens’s operating system is shared with Windows Mixed Reality so work on one platform should benefit the other.

It looks like 2019 was the high point for Windows Mixed Reality with consumers and I don’t expect new consumer focused headsets to be released in 2020 but I would love to be wrong. So I expect the usage share to continue to fall in 2020. Going from 10% market share to nothing will sound very familiar to Windows Phone users.

I really hope Microsoft have got something in the works for WMR in 2020 as they have an amazing platform to build on.

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