This year, Microsoft has more than just the HoloLens 2 for its Augmented Reality offerings. Microsoft Build 2019 has been moving away from big consumer announcements, instead focusing on business and cloud services. The company may, however, have some surprises in store for us when the developer conference kicks off on Monday in Seattle.
Microsoft has already published much of the breakout session titles, though it usually leaves a few unnamed until after the big keynote reveals. The ones we know about are heavy on AI, Azure cloud services, partner services, and developer tools. But its augmented reality offerings didn’t fall short.
In fact, Microsoft’s own blog post about the conference states: “This year’s event is focused on empowering developers of all kinds, from experienced computer scientists to tech beginners with big ideas we have so much in store!”
This year, there’s just one, 90-minute keynote from CEO Satya Nadella, so it seems there will be more vision than actual news.
Microsoft 3D Offerings – Spatial App
The demo was flawless, as Spatial co-founder Anand Agarawala opened a laptop using the Teams app to get things started. Everything looked like a standard Teams chat session until Agarawala donned a HoloLens 2, and then scanned a QR code on a tab in Teams.
A particularly powerful aspect of the app that we haven’t had a chance to show off is its ability to facilitate collaborations across devices, even when the other users don’t have a HoloLens.
In this latest demo, we’re shown remote desktop PC user communicating via the web, who is represented by a 2D video panel and can interact with 3D content in the Spatial app.
Similarly, an Android smartphone user, aided by Azure Spatial Anchors, is shown joining the immersive meeting using just the screen on his smartphone to manipulate a 3D model that other users can see in real time.
“We’re thrilled to have them back with us at Build to show how Spatial leveraged the Microsoft Graph to tightly integrate with Microsoft Teams to extend the solutions their customers know and love and capture new opportunity for their business,” said Matt Fleckenstein, senior director of Mixed Reality at Microsoft, in a statement.
Spatial co-Founder Anand Agarawala said in a statement:
“This integration is part of our larger goal of both streamlining and modernizing workflow for all of our customers, which means we need to provide the best suite of collaboration tools possible.”
In addition to the HoloLens, Microsoft Teams (via Office 365), and Android, the app also works through an iOS app and the web. It will be coming to the Magic Leap One soon, according to the company. The integration of Spatial into the Teams app will go live this June.
But Spatial is just one of the slew of announcements made by Microsoft.
Microsoft has something new planned for Minecraft, and it looks like an augmented reality app for mobile phones.
Microsoft teased a mixed reality version of Minecraft running on the HoloLens a few years ago, but that version of the game has yet to materialize. However, something like it might just make an appearance later this month. The tech company released a preview of an AR adaptation of the game during the Build developer conference that happened earlier this week.
The quick access bar on the phone screen seems to indicate that you’ll be able to place blocks in real-world space and interact with mobs.
The game is expected to use Azure Spatial Anchors, a program for building “mixed reality apps that map, designate, and recall precise points of interest that are accessible across HoloLens, iOS, and Android devices.” This suggests the game could come to HoloLens as well.
The video shows Minecraft Creative Director Saxs Persson sitting on a bench outside the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, where Build is taking place. He leaves his phone on the bench, and it’s picked up by a bystander who sees the “Minecraft” AR game running on the device.
The full announcement should come on May 17th, so we won’t have to wait long to figure out what the game will be. Regardless, the comparisons to Pokémon GO have already begun.