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Microsoft’s ‘mixed reality’ with Windows 10 update

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Taj Reid, senior designer at Microsoft, wears a HoloLens VR headset at Microsoft’s Windows 10 ‘Creators Update’ live event in New York City. Reuters

BERLIN (Reuters) – Microsoft is to update its flagship operating system next month so that the latest generation of Windows 10 hardware devices and software can tap into augmented and virtual reality technologies, executives said on Friday.

The software upgrade, its fourth update, will be offered from October 17 to existing customers of Windows 10 running on more than 500 million devices, the company said.

Microsoft also announced plans by computer and virtual-reality headset makers to introduce new hardware for businesses, consumers and video gamers to take advantage of so-called “mixed reality” features in the October software release.

“We’re enabling you to immerse yourself in a new reality – mixed reality,” Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s executive vice president in charge of Windows, said in a speech at the IFA consumer electronics fair in Berlin.

Mixed reality is the term Microsoft uses to describe software that covers both augmented and virtual reality.

Augmented reality overlays text, sounds, graphics and video on real-world images that users actually see in front of them, while virtual reality creates entirely computer-generated worlds.

The multimedia content can be viewed on computers, TV displays, smartphones, tablets or, in the case of virtual reality, on dedicated goggles. Microsoft plans to target these features first at advanced video game players using VR headsets, with business applications to follow, officials said.

Microsoft’s push comes as the US tech giants – Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook, along with China’s Baidu – increasingly battle to make augmented reality, together with artificial intelligence and cloud-based services, into the next computer platform.

Macquarie analyst Ben Schachter said in a research note this week that, unlike virtual reality which requires special goggles to view, augmented reality works on smartphones and other existing devices, making it vastly more accessible. He predicted far-reaching impacts in gaming and entertainment, as well as communications, manufacturing, fitness, health and retail.

Microsoft, which has largely remade itself into a supplier of cloud services delivered via the internet, has moved to a roughly six-month release cycle for feature updates of Windows from its three-year release cycle for disk-based versions of its operating system software.

The company also announced a range of devices from key hardware partners ready to take advantage of mixed reality features in the Windows 10 update available in mid-October from vendors including Lenovo, HP Inc., Dell, Acer, Asus and Fujitsu.

Microsoft’s new software release shrinks the laborious set-up of VR headsets for users to around 10 minutes, down from two to three hours now and helps cut the costs of headsets, in a step towards making such technology more mainstream, they said.

Other new Windows 10 features include a refreshed Photos app and the capacity to save files up to the cloud using Microsoft’s OneDrive service, without consuming local storage space. Win10 will also offer “Game Mode”, which allows video gamers to devote the full processing power of their computers to what they are playing, as if it was an Xbox game console, the company said.

Meanwhile, Apple Inc. said on Friday, it has transferred responsibility for Siri, its voice assistant, from content chief Eddy Cue to operating systems chief Craig Federighi, a sign that the company is looking to embed the voice assistant more deeply into its core systems amid rising competition from Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Amazon.com Inc.

Apple made the change in an update to the company’s executive biography pages. An Apple spokeswoman confirmed the change to Reuters but did not comment beyond the changes.

Mr Cue, a senior vice president, had overseen Siri since 2012 when Scott Forestall, Apple’s software chief at the time, was fired by CEO Tim Cook.

Mr Cue is primarily known as Apple’s chief content dealmaker, negotiating the company’s pivotal deals with record companies during the iTunes era and more recently its Apple Music streaming deals and its television content efforts.

In recent years, Apple has embedded its voice assistant more deeply into its iOS and macOS operating systems, letting it control things like adding calendar appointments, and expanded it from phones to laptops. Siri now controls third-party apps to do things like summon a ride or book a table.

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