Satya Nadella pinning Microsoft future on augmented reality

25 Oct 2016

Pokémon GO has kick-started a revolution and Microsoft wants in. Image: Imagine Photographer/Shutterstock

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s focus seems firmly fixed on an augmented reality future, with developers already scrambling to satisfy demand.

The Pokémon GO buzz may be over, but the ripple effects are still being felt in the technology industry.

A new study has found that the popularity of augmented reality (AR) apps is such that developers are already scrambling to tap into the next wave. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is focused on the long-term plan, with future waves adding up to a far higher tide.

Future Human

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

“The ultimate computer for me is the mixed reality world,” he said at a WSJD Live interview recently. “Your field of view becomes an infinite display. You see the world and in the world, you see virtual objects and holograms.”

Juniper Research forecasts that the AR market will rise to 2.3bn apps by 2021, representing a 380pc increase from an estimated 482m in 2016.

Microsoft is hoping the HoloLens will be the device most people use to enter into a new, immersive realm of technology.

“Whether it be HoloLens, mixed reality, or Surface, our goal is to invent new computers and new computing,” he added, with AI now a dedicated strand of the company – though teething issues have persisted.

Last March, it was forced to take its Twitter AI chatbot offline within 24 hours of its release, after some fairly unpleasant situations emerged in the wild.

In the space of a day, Tay turned from a genderless machine-learning AI designed to learn from Twitter, into a Donald Trump-supporting, holocaust-denying sexist.

Since then, the company’s AI moves have been quite interesting. It booted Google from its Cortana AI assistant on Windows 10, with Bing becoming the preferred option.

Last month, Microsoft formed a department solely focused on AI which by then was no surprise, given the recent announcement of its involvement in the newly formed Partnership on AI to benefit People and Society.

The partnership – that also includes Google, Facebook, Amazon and IBM, among others – is an attempt to democratise AI technology for the good of humankind.

As Juniper’s study notes, the increasing confidence in AR technology is best demonstrated by large investments into smaller AR specialists, such as Magic Leap.

The company has attracted over $1.3bn of investment to continue the development of its hardware.

Shrouded in secrecy, Magic Leap has made no public announcement but it has convinced large companies such as Google and Qualcomm Ventures to invest.

Furthermore, Apple’s inclusion of two rear cameras on its latest flagship iPhone indicates their belief that AR content will further penetrate the smartphone ecosystem.

Nadella said it was about time Microsoft got ahead of the technology curve.

“We clearly missed the mobile boom,” he said. “Now we have to make sure we grow new categories.”

Pokémon GO. Image: Imagine Photographer/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic