Microsoft Build 2019: What to expect from the tech-giant for the future of AR?
It’s that time of the year again! It’s the season of developers’ conferences with Facebook hosting its very own F8 at San Jose, CA between April 30- May 1st and Google hosting its I/O at the Shoreline Amphitheater, CA between May 7–9. With ideas galore in the air like confetti, Microsoft entered the scene with its Build 2019 conference at Seattle, sharing what’s on its mind between May 6–8. This season in tune with last year has acquainted the world with the idea we all have to embrace now more than ever: the future belongs to AR and AI and the tech giants are geared up to blur the real with the visual, with technology that they have been working on for years.
With expectations brimmed to the rim since its announcement of Hololens 2 at the Mobile World Congress last year, it was but inevitable that Microsoft would open Build with their most anticipated device. With irresolvable problems of the Hololens with its limited field of view, Hololens 2 released after three years was expected to be the very embodiment of next-generation technology.
However, it couldn’t have gone down worse with TheVerge branding Hololens 2 as “the technological equivalent of a tragic hero” as the opening demo turned out to be a trainwreck. The attempt to recreate The Apollo 11 space mission using Unreal Engine 4 boiled down to simply nothing as the demo completely backfired with the presenters dispersing from the stage amid bouts of confused and awkward laughter.
A desperate attempt to avoid face loss led to a second HoloLens 2 demo shortly before the keynote ended with the context of a team of Mattel holding a product review meeting. The entire demo seemed to go ahead as planned but initial reviews hardly disguised their disappointment with the rawness of the technology, especially with the stiff 3D HoloLens generated virtual avatar who looked nothing more real than an “XBox character” to some. Build 2019 therefore, exposed the bare truth that mixed reality although exhilarating on paper is not even close to a cakewalk to produce practically.
However, not everything went downhill in the field of AR at Build 2019 with CEO Satya Nadella announcing in his Keynote of mixed reality services provided by its cloud computing services platform Azure such as the Spatial Anchor service which allows one to build cross-device mixed reality experiences citing examples of companies including Paccar which uses Azure mixed reality services to ramp up its training programme, Philips which is making use of it in the field of surgery and PTC which applies it in the field of industrial design.
Microsoft has upped its game in the field of AI commendably too. Cortana is updated with upgraded conversational skills. Nadella talked about the subtle turns in human conversations which operate on the basis of a loose thread of context that personal assistants seem to lack. Now Microsoft has tied up with Semantic Machines to provide the ultimate conversational experience. At Build this year, the company rolled a video to show how Cortana will be able to organise meetings and reminders while understanding the turns in conversation getting the right context like an actual person. That way, the conversation ends up to be something more than a series of commands to be rather like a series of proactive interactions.
Microsoft 365 which includes Microsoft Office came with its own set of updates in its Ideas in Word which uses AI for grammar and style checks and will now be able to suggest improvements in human written documents through natural language processing (NLP) technology.
Azure Cognitive Services received a major update at Build. The new Ink Recognizer service will enable developers to merge physical pen and paper usage with the digital by incorporating digital ink recognition abilities into apps.
Microsoft’s buzzing world of gaming had one of the major anticipatory elements for the audience. The end of the Build keynote was slick and clever in every sense of the word with Microsoft rolling a teaser of what appears to be a new Minecraft game using Augmented Reality on mobile devices. The world has hardly seen a better game in this field after Pokemon Go which was itself quite rudimentary and Microsoft made promises through its brief Minecraft teaser which has thrown us overboard already. The creatures in the teaser are shown to have an actual static presence in our augmented reality crafted world rather than being an indifferent floating entity merely. According to the teaser the creatures in the composite world should scale correctly as you move close to or away from them which is itself a leap in the world of AR.
Being short as a teaser is supposed to be, it has left us with a lot of questions with what Microsoft plans to give the world through a fusion of gaming and AR and what goes without saying is that we are hands down, excited!