Both Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) are making noise in the augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) market, and their recent moves may transform how mobile developers approach this sector.
Windows Holographic mixes reality, boosts dev opportunities
Microsoft this month announced that its Windows Holographic mixed-reality platform "is coming to devices of all shapes and sizes from fully immersive virtual reality to fully untethered holographic computing."
The announcement highlights Microsoft's commitment to helping developers create Holographic apps, as these developers now can deliver mixed-reality experiences across many Windows 10 devices.
"For our partners, [Windows Holographic] creates new business opportunities, unlocking mixed reality experiences across devices. For developers, Windows Holographic apps can be written today with confidence that they will run on the broadest set of devices," Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, wrote in a blog post.
Microsoft released HoloLens, its fully untethered, holographic computer that enabled users to interact with high‑definition holograms, in March.
A Microsoft spokesperson told FierceDeveloper that HoloLens can run Windows 10 apps, and features a holographic shell that includes the Windows Store, where all the apps that work on HoloLens can be found.
Meanwhile, the new Holographic hardware may help developers take their mixed-reality apps to new heights.
"The new Windows Holographic hardware from our partners will run the same platform and benefit from the same apps in the same store (as HoloLens)," a Microsoft spokesperson said.
Holographic may empower developers to optimize the user experience, too.
"Many of today's devices and experiences do not work with each other, provide different user interfaces, interaction models, input methods, peripherals and content. And most virtual reality experiences can't mix real people, objects and environments into the virtual world, making creation and collaboration difficult. This is because they lack the human, environmental and object understanding that is already built into Windows 10," Myerson noted.
Google Daydream pushes out of the Cardboard box
Daydream was unveiled last month and serves as a Google's VR platform.
David MacQueen, executive director of Apps and Media at marketing consultant Strategy Analytics, said Daydream offers a viable follow-up to Cardboard, Google's disposable VR headset, and may generate significant interest among developers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
"Daydream should help push VR further amongst handset vendors and help the rollout," he told FierceDeveloper. "It seems [to be] an incremental technology improvement from Cardboard, which is already gathering plenty of support, so we expect that it will accelerate support from OEMs."
Also, Daydream could drive standardization that may make it easier for developers to create and launch VR apps across multiple devices at the same time.
"[Daydream is] a big step forward in the sense that it provides a common framework that can be leveraged by multiple OEMs and thus lead to apps, games and content being developed and delivered to millions of end users in 2017 who have compatible phones and the associated headset and controller," Lewis Ward, research director of gaming at market research firm International Data Corp (IDC), told FierceDeveloper.
Unity may drive AR/VR market
The AR/VR market represents a significant opportunity for developers, which is reflected in recent data.
For example, AR/VR market analyst Digi-Capital has predicted the AR/VR sector will be worth $120 billion by 2020, particularly as demand from consumers and enterprises increases over the next few years.
"Virtual reality could be big soon. Augmented reality could be bigger, but might take longer to get there," Digi-Capital wrote in a blog post.
However, standardization may influence developers' interest in creating AR/VR apps.
Although Holographic and Daydream may drive standardization across both Windows 10 and Android devices, respectively, MacQueen pointed out that Unity represents the closest thing to an AR/VR "standard" for today's developers.
Currently, Unity is used by 47 percent of developers and controls 45 percent of the full-feature game engine market. And with the rising demand for mobile AR/VR apps, Unity could become exceedingly popular among developers who enter the AR/VR market.
"The cross-platform games engine has been quick off the mark, integrating with virtually all of the VR headsets, giving developers the opportunity to code once and address multiple headsets," MacQueen noted. "While the market develops further, with no clear winners yet on the hardware side, it's probably wise to hedge your bets and look at cross-platform tools like Unity. Unity's competitors are also incorporating VR, so we expect there to be greater choice of these tools in the near future."
Market intelligence firm Tractica points out that mobile technologies are making it easier for end users to reap the benefits of AR/VR.
Thus, today's developers are empowered to create innovative AR/VR apps that capitalize on the capabilities of the latest smartphones and tablets.
"Mobile solutions are already helping to solve one of the main inhibitors of further adoption of VR, which is the difficulty in demonstrating its capabilities to potential users," Tractica wrote in its "Virtual Reality for Consumer Markets" report. "Simply put, one must experience VR to appreciate it, and getting the necessary equipment in the hands of people for them to get a taste of the technology is difficult."