Will Mixed Reality as a Service be a Game Changer for Microsoft?

The new HoloLens subscription service could prove a catalyst for SMEs to embrace immersive technology.

Since the HoloLens was first released almost three years ago, Microsoft has steadily been building partnerships and demonstrating an array of industry use cases across manufacturing, engineering, healthcare, education and many others.

Rather than place users in a fully computer-generated world, as virtual reality does, HoloLens allows users to put 3D digital models in the room alongside them. As the Windows-10-based product does not have wires or external cameras, or require a phone or PC connection, users can walk around the objects they create and interact with them using gestures, gaze and voice. This tends to make it well suited for onsite industrial applications.

Yet while many large companies have adopted mixed reality and enthusiastically evangelized about the efficiency gains that they achieved with HoloLens applications, the $3,000 price tag of the device has been perceived as a barrier for adoption among smaller players, who understandably aren’t sure that the ROI would be justified in onboarding the technology at this relatively early stage.

This is why it’s significant to see the Microsoft partnering with JTRS and its parent firm Econocom to rollout a new mixed reality as a Service offering which will allow customers to get a HoloLens on a subscription basis across Europe. The packages start at £260 per month and include device, delivery, a swap warranty, and collection and recycling at the end of the term.

JTRS also offers add-on options to the subscription, including an ability to increase the number of HoloLens devices received and keeping some of them when the term ends. The company can also set up the headsets before delivery and offers starter packs and training. In the UK, the standard subscription model offer is a minimum of 12 months or 24 months, with flexibility and device refresh options available — important considering that we’re expecting a new upgraded version of the HoloLens to be announced in the next few months.

Out of the 39 markets where the HoloLens is available globally, 29 are in Europe, so it makes sense that Microsoft has chosen to pilot this new model in the region. According to Leila Martine, Director of Product Marketing at Microsoft, “Europe is the first market in which we’re working with authorized resellers to offer HoloLens as part of a subscription model to help support the depth of customer and Mixed Reality Partner Program partners’ needs we’ve seen in this market.”

The VR and AR device global market is predicted to reach circa $1.8 billion this year, and according to market intelligence firm IDC, the sector as a whole will see revenues of more than $162 billion in 2020 — up from $5.2 billion in 2016. Yet within Microsoft’s mixed reality strategy, hardware is only one piece of the puzzle. At last year’s Build conference they outlined their ambition to become the go-to platform for immersive experiences across all devices, and recent moves seem to back this up, opting for an open and collaborative approach rather than the “walled garden” strategy favored by companies such as Apple.

Microsoft has also been developing an array of first party collaborative apps such as Remote Assistance (which enables hands-free video calling, image sharing and mixed reality annotations to share what they see with an expert to solve problems and complete tasks) and Microsoft Layouts (which lets users import 3D models to create and visualize room layouts and edits with multiple stakeholders in real time.

One example that Martine gives of this sort of successful partnership is UK startup Kazendi which allows co-workers to remotely meet, collaborate and connect with 3D models and 2D documents via HoloLens. Meanwhile, PTC’s Vuforia Studio offers business native support for building and rapidly creating scalable experiences without the need for skills programming or designers. This sort of out-of-the-box functionality, together with the support and affordability offered in the subscription model, is likely to entice many SMEs into dipping their toes into the immersive tech market, and that in turn could cement Microsoft’s dominance in that space.

This article was originally published on Forbes

For companies looking to get into Immersive technologies such as VR/AR/MR/XR our Virtual Reality Consultancy services offer guidance and support on how best to incorporate these into your brand strategy.

Originally published at Tech Trends.

Technology writer for FastCo, Quartz, The Next Web, Ars Technica, Wired + more. Consultant specializing in VR #MixedReality and Strategic Communications

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