Best exemplified by the HoloLens headset, mixed reality is Microsoft’s vision of Windows-powered augmented and virtual-reality experiences that span a wide variety of uses, particularly in enterprises.
Whether it involves exploring placement options for industrial equipment on factory floors or analyzing business data from a different perspective, Microsoft envisions workplaces where donning mixed-reality gear is as commonplace as sitting behind a keyboard and mouse.
On May 21, during the SharePoint Conference North America in Las Vegas, Microsoft unveiled SharePoint Spaces, a new way of interacting with content stored in the enterprise collaboration platform.
"SharePoint mainstreams mixed reality, empowering everyone to create visually compelling spaces that are available to anyone, on any device," stated Jeff Teper, Corporate Vice President for OneDrive, SharePoint, and Office, in a blog post. "Mixed reality experiences immerse you, focus your attention, engage your senses, and spark your curiosity and imagination to unlock new scenarios for communication, learning, and collaboration," he added.
So far, Microsoft appears focused on a handful of workplace scenarios for SharePoint Spaces, including product development and training. It can also be used as a recruiting and onboarding tool, allowing new hires to explore a company's organizational structure using 3D visuals, as seen in this video.
Granted, 3D designers are a rare breed outside of special effects houses, game development studios, engineering firms and the like. To help ensure that businesses of all types can immerse themselves in SharePoint Spaces, Microsoft offers templates that combine ambient sounds, textures and evocative lighting for a polished look and feel.
Dux Raymond Sy, CMO at SharePoint management firm AvePoint, believes that Spaces heralds a new, more engaging era for SharePoint users.
"It's great to see Microsoft pushing the boundaries of mixed reality with the announcement of SharePoint Spaces. It's truly a phenomenal innovation that will enable SharePoint to be the go-to content services platform for enterprises for years to come," Sy said.
Adding a mixed-reality twist to enterprise collaboration also opens up new avenues of interacting with business data.
"With Spaces, the ease of use can empower organizations to make more informed decisions by entering an immersive world for engaging with information within SharePoint," said the AvePoint executive. "A practical use of SharePoint Spaces in the enterprise is conducting product training for employees which will enable them to interact with large objects that might be otherwise impossible in the real world."
Mixed reality isn't the only tool that Microsoft is using to keep SharePoint users engaged.
A variety of artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities will soon make their way to SharePoint, including new personalized search capabilities in the mobile app. Taking into consideration a worker's role, contacts and current projects, the app will offer up search results, files, news and other content tailored to a given user.
New AI-enabled object and text-recognition capabilities allows SharePoint users to search for content within images as they would a typical document, according to Teper.