Microsoft is at the centre of speculation that it’s metaverse strategy is in complete disarray, amid uncertainty about the future of its HoloLens device.

Microsoft first unveiled its HoloLen augmented reality headset back in 2015, but arrivals of new headset models has been somewhat sporadic over the intervening years.

But now Business Insider has reported that HoloLens 3 was actually cancelled in mid-2021, around the same time Microsoft partnered with Samsung for a mixed reality device.

Microsoft’s HoloLens is being widely adopted throughout the healthcare sector.

HoloLens ‘s**t show’?

And it seems this decision to rely on Samsung hardware while Microsoft takes care of the software side is reportedly causing internal disruption at the firm.

Indeed, the Business Insider article relied on reports from “more than 20 current and former employees,” and it provides an alarming insight into Microsoft’s HoloLens division, which is led by Microsoft technical fellow Alex Kipman.

According to the report, the entire program is in complete disarray.

It is said that mixed reality and HoloLens teams are infighting over the way forward, centred over a consumer or enterprise (and military) approach.

Microsoft’s HoloLens 2. Microsoft

There is also disagreement whether Microsoft should should carry on with hardware, or instead just focus on software for the metaverse.

The metaverse term, coined from science fiction, refers to the use of VR technology to create a semi-autonomous virtual world that’s interconnected with physical reality.

Microsoft’s HoloLens 2. Microsoft

There are also allegations that Microsoft’s leadership team has largely failed to address the concerns of employees working on these projects, and at least 25 (but could be as high as 100) Microsoft mixed reality staffers have already left Redmond and joined Facebook’s Meta in 2021.

Indeed, one Microsoft employee reportedly called it a “s–t show.”

But Microsoft has reportedly denied that HoloLens is a dead project.

Frank Shaw, communication lead for Microsoft reportedly said HoloLens is “…critical part of [the company’s] plans for emerging categories like mixed reality and the metaverse. We remain committed to HoloLens and future HoloLens development.”

History repeating?

Long term Microsoft watchers would point out that these words sound a little familiar, having been echoed during Microsoft’s other failed endeavours.

Indeed, it is fair to say that Microsoft has a truly awful track record when it comes to providing the consumer market with electronic devices and products.

Lets not forget Microsoft’s protracted abandonment of Windows Phone; its failed acquisition of Nokia; the axing of the Kinect controller device; the Band wearable, Zune music player, Surface Neo tablet (the jury is still out on Surface Neo smartphone); the Courier Project (a dual-screen tablet); ARM powered Surface RT devices; the Cortana virtual assistant; Windows 10X; and the Microsoft Kin phone line for social networking.

Despite these many failures, Microsoft does still have a presence in the consumer space thanks to its expensive Surface devices, and of course Microsoft’s Xbox division.

Road ahead

Another point to remember is that in 2020 it was announced that Microsoft would supply the US Army with thousands of devices based on its HoloLens augmented reality headset.

But in October 2021 the US Army said it was pushing the date it plans to field augmented reality glasses from Microsoft. However it said it remained “fully committed” to the $22 billion contract, after defence news publication Jane had reported that it had halted the project and was re-evaluating plans for the technology.

Matters are not helped when the Business Insider report suggested that the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) for the US military is having major quality issues and is behind schedule.

But it should not be forgotten that Microsoft last week announced its intention to acquire the Call Of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Starcraft powerhouse, Activision Blizzard, for a whopping $68.7bn.

This could suggest that Microsoft’s augmented, virtual reality, metaverse ambitions may not be over just yet.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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