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Microsoft mixed reality software comes to smartphones

Microsoft is adding mixed reality capabilities for sales departments and for customer service, extending the features beyond their HoloLens headset and onto smartphones.

Microsoft said it will make available mixed reality software for mobile devices, extending the capabilities beyond Microsoft's HoloLens, its augmented reality headset.

The tech giant also said it will release Dynamics 365 Product Visualize for iOS, which will enable organizations in industries with complex products such as manufacturing, healthcare and automotive visualize products for its customers by using mixed reality software on iPhones.

Microsoft, in a news release on Feb. 21, also said it will release Dynamics 365 Remote Assist for Android devices. While Product Visualize will enable sales reps to better showcase their products, Remote Assist can help field service agents collaborate with colleagues who are working remotely and help troubleshoot service problems using mixed reality software.

Both Product Visualize and Remote Assist will be available in preview in April, Microsoft said. Microsoft did not immediately make available pricing and packaging information.

HoloLens already had these capabilities, but by moving those to mobile devices, Microsoft said it hopes to spur customers to use the technology more.

Customer service software vendors are beginning to add augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality software to products, giving users more ways to interact with consumers.

"There's a growing recognition that these tools can help get the job done," said Paul Miller, a Forrester analyst. "It's useful for a sales person, for supply chain, for manufacturing and for customer support."

Mixed reality becoming more popular

Definitions of AR, virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality software can vary. AR adds digital information to real world images by overlaying the digital items, while VR cloaks the real world in an immersive digital experience. Mixed reality software, however, lets users interact with real-world objects and digital objects, going a step beyond AR capabilities.

There's a growing recognition that these tools can help get the job done.
Paul Milleranalyst, Forrester

While still emerging, mixed reality software and AR software are gaining more users and interest, according to Forrester.

Meanwhile, 43% of U.S. business users are interested in studying or learning about VR, while 39% are interested in VR for specific training, according to a recent survey Miller did for Forrester.

Although the interest level is high, few people are using the technology, according to the same Forrester survey. Just 7% of global respondents said they use a smartphone for VR or AR apps each week, with 3% doing so daily. People said they use VR or AR apps on tablets a bit more, with 11% using them weekly and 5% daily.

Microsoft appears to be moving more toward mixed reality software on smartphones to get more people to use the technology and perhaps spur more organizations to try HoloLens-type headsets.

"If you're an organization with a thousand field service engineers, you may not want to pay for a thousand HoloLens," Miller said. "This way, maybe you can buy 20 HoloLens and see the value you get from it while the other agents can use their phones for the same capabilities."

Mixed reality is more than Microsoft

In the customer support space, mixed reality software can help customers in several ways. One strategy involves sending a field service agent to service the customer's product or device, using their mixed reality tools to work with colleagues and troubleshoot the problem. Another approach is more consumer-facing with the customer using mixed reality capabilities to solve the problem with the help of customer service agents.

"The way cloud-based services are being brought closer to the frontline worker is interesting," Miller said. "Organizations are taking these tools originally designed at your desk and recognizing the value of them is out in the field."

Microsoft is building off mixed reality features it unveiled in October 2018 and is not the only vendor adding more mixed reality software and AR or VR capabilities to its products. At a CX event in Boston in February 2019, contact center vendor Genesys outlined a roadmap of its products that includes AR capabilities later this year. Other vendors such as OverIT are also delivering video assistant tools within field service.

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