With no retail release yet scheduled for its HoloLens augmented reality headset, Microsoft has taken a leaf out of Google's book to create a cardboard smartphone-powered virtual reality accessory to get developers thinking about the future of their applications.
Unveiled in January this year, Microsoft's HoloLens
is an ambitious look at the future of computing. Featuring integrated Windows-powered computing, gesture- and voice-activated control, and head tracking, the company is investing considerable resources into the device - including hiring the producer of sci-fi epic Mass Effect
to drive the company's efforts. Its augmented reality demos have been slick and impressive, but while press and analysts have been offered hands-on experiences with the device it still remains out of reach of consumers with no formal launch date yet scheduled.
To fill the gap, Microsoft appears to be going somewhat down-market and taking its cue from competitor Google with a low-cost, smartphone-powered virtual reality accessory dubbed the Microsoft VR Kit. Based in no small part on Google's Cardboard, details of the VR Kit appeared on the promotional site for a Russian hackathon organised by Microsoft's local arm and spotted by Thurrot
. According to details provided on the site, the VR Kit is designed to work with Microsoft's Lumia family of Windows-powered smartphones.
The hackathon itself will see local developers compete to build applications in three categories: games, education, and enterprise applications. For Microsoft, it's an interesting shift: the company has previously shied away from virtual reality in favour of pushing the augmented reality of its HoloLens system. For the virtual reality market, though, it's yet another big-name company dipping its toes into the water ahead of the expected industry explosion that will follow the commercial launch of several big-name VR headsets in the first half of next year.