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The holographic resurgence of a mobile Windows

Disclaimer: Everything in this post is based on rumors or public information. I obviously would not disclose any confidential information. Therefore please do not consider anything hereinafter to be verified info. To the contrary, I might be very wrong.

An overview of the mobile market

Microsoft’s mobile strategy is a failure

When the Zune HD launched with the Metro user interface, I immediately sold my iPod Touch and bought this awesome device. The UI was very futuristic at that time, and that explains why I bought shortly after an LG Optimus 7, one of the very first Windows Phone 7 Series (…) handsets. Most reviewers congratulated Microsoft for their refreshing, well-thought mobile experience, at a time when Google was shamelessly copying Apple. Despite the lack of apps, the operating system had solid foundations to grow and gain marketshare.

Six years after, and after 2, 3, 4 SDK reboots (Silverlight WP7, Silverlight WP8, WinRT 8.1 “Universal”, W10 UWP), it is a failure. It took that long for Microsoft to build a serious, powerful developer platform. Too little, too late. The OS is now openly criticized even by its most successful developers (like Rudy Huyn) as most phones can’t upgrade to the Windows 10 Anniversary update. Also, we have yet to see Windows as a commonly-supported platform for new AAA apps, like Snapchat and Pokemon Go.

Microsoft know they failed, and they’re trying really hard to find what’s the next big thing in tech : AI, chatbots, virtual reality, mixed reality, phones that transforms into a PC, etc. Actually it’s the whole industry that’s trying to reinvent the phone.

The golden age of smartphones is over

It’s not about big hardware iterations anymore: it’s been many years we didn’t see a revolutionary new feature or technology being added to the phone, like a Retina screen or a front-facing camera (this one changed the way we take pictures, and changed even our society with the selfie). Biometric sensors are cool, but are not a major enhancement to our everyday life. Perhaps LIDAR and kinect-like sensors will.

Looks like we’re arrived at some form of plateau

All eyes are now turned to software innovation, or at least, app makers finally begin to use all the current tech available instead of just parsing a JSON file. In order words, getting creative to excite users again. This is mostly a role played by big players today. Facebook with MSQRD is trying to compete Snapchat and their augmented reality filters my friends love to use. Niantic managed to transform a simple-but-functional augmented reality and decades of intellectual property into a great and lucrative experience.

The wearable market is promising though it still has to convince mainstream users they can’t live without a smartwatch, a smart home or connected shoes. Same applies for bluetooth headsets: many users don’t want to use them because they add more frustration than nice additions to the experience. It gives the same sentiment when you can’t control your lights using the Philips Hue app because they need to be updated (although this could be easily solved).

This tells us any software or hardware maker who wants to build the next big thing will need to build it over the smartphone or by leveraging new smartphone capabilities (I’m thinking of VR here). Sometimes that might even mean upgrading the smartphone with new hardware tech, like more sensors and new processing units.

The shape and look of MR devices

Holograms … for who, when, and how?

As of today, the only mixed reality almost anyone (in the US or Canada) with 3000$ (not really anyone) can buy is the Microsoft Hololens Developer Kit. At Opuscope’s we have some of those and our developers usually wear them about 3 to 6 hours per working day. It’s now a common thing to enter in our offices and realize everyone is wearing one.

The Hololens dev kit is so well made people tend to compare it to a finished product like a HTC Vive and say “I’m not going to wear this all day in a not-so-distant future”. It is true, the device feels a bit heavy, big and not that pretty. To that we generally answer it won’t be the same in the final versions, and that currently Microsoft is targeting businesses. Business don’t really care about the look of the device. So comes the questions “what does a mixed reality will look like”?

What does a mixed reality device look like?

The Magic box in the pocket

While Microsoft never spoke about the look of mixed reality (which are “coming in the next months” according to Tierry Mierson) devices running Windows Holographic, Magic Leap has clear goals: sell a fashionable device, that people can wear and use comfortably all day. To my understanding, fashionable means as light and minimalistic as the “analogic” glasses I wear everyday.

The way it might work is described in many publicly consultable patents. They are building futuristic tech that tries to work with the body in order to feel natural to the user. Sensors and lenses are going to be extremely small, and the required processing power will be located in a tiny device placed in a pocket. That box would send digital lightfields to the glasses using a cable just like the way headphones are connected to the smartphone using a jack cable.

A Magic Leap patent

The entire industry, not only Apple, will one day remove the jack port, and that could be because we will transmit lightfields and sound using a digital cable. Just like virtual reality is mostly mobile virtual reality, mixed reality devices will use our phones as a data-processing and computing platform.

Microsoft’s mixed reality vision

Think Windows Holographic, not Microsoft Hololens

Will Microsoft directly sell their own mixed reality devices to end-consumers? I’m not sure. They might, just like they do with Surface, but one would consider them as a reference design so that OEMs can use the tech and build their own product. What matters is that Microsoft have many historic partners, and they will build x86 or ARM devices running Windows Holographic. And some will surely move the processing unit elsewhere so the glasses remain fashionable.

It also has to do with Windows Mobile

Unlike Magic Leap’s public declarations, Microsoft want developers to think of B2B scenarios for Windows Holographic, keeping in mind a multi-year release model, in which the end consumer is the last one to get to use this new platform. Given the commercial failure of Windows Mobile in the consumer space, it will also target businesses for at least the next couple of years.

In the Windows Holographic announcement video, we’ve spotted a HTC Vive, supposedly running the OS. A Microsoft spokesperson later confirmed they’re working with HTC on a new device. I also remember the Windows phones HTC built in the past few years (RIP my HTC 8X), so it’s not surprising they’re partnering to create new devices.

We also know Redstone 2 and Restone 3 will focus on improving Windows Mobile. Current rumors don’t say much more however.

Microsoft Productivity Future Vision (2011) — one of my favorite videos

The developer platform is ready

After many unsuccessful developer platform reboots, the Universal Windows Platform finally has all the tools (WindowsUI, formerly Composition) needed to create fluid and beautiful apps. These apps will look great as holograms. One might say these are 2D apps and not 3D apps, which is true. Not everything has to be in 3D though, at least at the beginning. Given the ‘universality’ of the platform, it’s easy to imagine using the same backend code, and have two separate UIs, one for legacy platforms, one for mixed reality devices. Think about it : it has the potential to create the biggest app store for the upcoming holographic world. This could be Continuum 2.0: the smartphone as the core computing platform of your everyday life, and the holographic device as a screen replacement.

What if the future of Windows Mobile is Windows Holographic ?

VLC, Windows 10

Announcing VLC as a UWP

Hi everyone,

We’ve been quite silent on our work toward building the VLC app for Windows 10. We didn’t want to set any deadline until we were 100% confident, so we wouldn’t overpromise and underdeliver.

Plays everything, everywhere

More than ever, thanks to the power of UWP 🙂

Windows 10 Mobile

Redstone only, TH2 will probably not be supported. This is because of technical limitations around Background audio APIs, and bad drivers on the phones not receiving the RS1 bits.

Public Beta

Next week ! And this week for VIPs (¬‿¬)

Official release

Early may

 

Windows 10 Desktop SKU

Closed beta

Early may (no public beta)

Official release

Around mid may

 

Windows 10 on Xbox One

We’ve been working on Xbox One for a long time, even considered a Windows 8 app last year, but we could’nt because of the lack of proper APIs. The work on the Xbox One UWP port started in February, and it’s been a pleasure to follow the SDK updates.

Build from source

Check out our repo and try it yourself on your Xbox One starting next week. It’s still far from perfect but we have several pieces of code not merged yet in the master branch.

Official release

This summer, when developers will be able to publish UWP apps on Xbox.

 

Windows 10 IoT

We’re working on a VLC UWP app for the Raspberry 3 (possibly 2 as well), so you can transform a 20$ computer into a portable media center.

No release date for now.

 

Windows 10 on Hololens

We’ll start the work on Hololens as soon as we have some devices to play with. 🙂

 

Windows 8.1 – Windows Phone 8.1 – Windows RT

We’ll release the last update in May, then we’ll drop the support.


Screenshots

AlbumsDark AlbumsFabLight AlbumsLight ArtistsDark ArtistSelectedLight ArtistSelectedLightSnap

ArtistPageAlbumsDarkArtistPageBioDarkArtistsLight FileExplorerFolderLight FileExplorerLight PipLight SettingsDark SettingsLight VideoPlayerLight VideoPlayerMenuLight VideosDark VideosLight


Features

To be completely honest – the first upcoming versions won’t have many more features than the current version of VLC for Windows Store. All those features will be present in the May/June timeframe. We’ll add new features on a weekly basis.

Deprecated features

  • Artist’s upcoming shows, because LastFM messed up its APIs. Patches are welcome if you want to bring it back from another provider

Added features

User Interface

  • Updated UI to match the Windows 10 style
  • Choose your own accent color : VLC color or Windows chosen accent-color
  • Dark or light theme following your Windows (on Anniversary update) global settings
  • Windows 10 live tiles and notifications
  • Drag and drop a file in the app
  • Continuum support.
    • Basic Continuum scenarios : docking
    • Hybrid scenarios : control VLC running on your XBOX from your W10 mobile phone.
  • Cortana (experimental)
    • Search in the library
    • Control the playback
    • Playlist creation

 

Video Library UI

  • Movie covers from the Internet

 

Video Player UI

  • Reworked video player – easier access to VLC options, such as resizing, spu/audio delay, subtitles and audio tracks selection
  • Picture in Picture mode – browse your collection and the video plays on the bottom-right corner
  • Chromecast support

 

Video Player features

  • Automatic subtitles download from the Internet
  • We are trying to convince the right people at Microsoft to whitelist the DVD-related APIs. It’s technically possible!

 

Audio/Video Player features

  • Equalizer

 

Network UI

  • Manage your streams : favorites, delete, etc

 

Network features

  • Automatic discovery
  • UPnP/DLNA
  • SMB/CIFS
  • FTP/NFS
  • Browsing

Localization

  • French
  • English

More languages to be added throughout the year.

Developers features

  • vlc:// protocol

Your feedback matters!

 


Q/A

Will there be another Windows RT update?

Yes, as described in the post.

Are there keyboard controls like the « legacy » VLC software?

Yes, available controls are listed in the app settings.

Will we have a holographic video player one day?

Many of you asked, and the answer is yes – if we have Hololens device.

Interesting questions


It was just an upgrade, so it was quite easy. I’m thinking of writing at least a couple of blogposts that detail some parts of process.

  • We’re working on Chromecast support so you’ll be able to cast using a Chromecast. Others might arrive later.
  • Snap mode is available on Windows 10, in Desktop and Tablet mode.
  • We’re working with the Centennial team to bring the very best of the Centennial technology and the UWP platform. Stay tuned!