Ever since Microsoft's surprise announcement of HoloLens, analysts have struggled to understand Microsoft's plans for the device. Microsoft diehards, however, have recognized the device as a technology demo platform. This is an approach that Intel has taken for years, and Microsoft adopted the concept far more recently.
The original Surface was designed to challenge the industry's and public's views of what a computer could be. The Band was designed for Microsoft to test out integrating new sensors, charging technology, etc., into a smaller package. The HoloLens was Microsoft's Mixed Reality playground. A device which allows them to try out Windows Mixed Reality without the need for a PC, but that can try out new technology.
The next generation of HoloLens will feature a newly designed AI chip. The company has been working to incorporate some of the capabilities that the HoloLens uses currently through Azure, but in a disconnected nature. This chip, however, is not designed just to enhance the HoloLens, but to enhance computing as a whole. Panos Panay, the head of devices for Microsoft, said,
We have to continue to find those pieces of silicon, those chipsets that have to be developed, to bring those sensors to life, to connect people to each other, and with their products.
But he expanded the idea beyond Microsoft. In fact, he suggested that Microsoft, after designing this chip, would want to license it out to partners, such as they did with the chipset within the Surface pen.
I think of the most important things we do in Surface and in our chip development is not only creating technology - we have a pen, there's an ASIC in the pen-as an example, that we do license out to other companies. And without a doubt, the opportunity to make sure that we get the technology, create it within Surface, and then proliferate it to our partners and give everybody the opportunity to use is really important.
This falls inline with Microsoft's business model. Unlike Apple, who designs stuff and hides it behind patents and their design studio, Microsoft develops technology for themselves, and then allows others in the industry to use that technology to enhance their own products. We've seen this with ASIC in the Surface Pen, Casio licensing the Band, and even Cortana in the Harmon Kardon Invoke.
It will be interesting to see how partners put Microsoft's new AI chip to use. Perhaps Harmon Kardon will enhance Cortana's capabilities within the Invoke, Casio could improve their implementation of the Band, Samsung could make their Mixed Reality headsets even better, or a company we've never heard of could design a whole new device category.