TAIPEI, Taiwan — Microsoft's vision of "natural computing" will be a significant departure from the keyboard-and-mouse combination we're all familiar with today — but several moving parts have to come together in order to make it work.
Namely, those include touchscreens, smart pens and augmented-reality headsets.
SEE ALSO: Microsoft wants a piece of the VR pie, and it's using HoloLens to get it
Luckily, Microsoft brought all of those elements together on stage at the Computex trade show on Wednesday.
It announced that Windows Hello and Windows Ink, two features that had been seen in beta earlier this year, will become real for Windows 10 users this summer via a free OS update.
Li-Chen Miller, Microsoft's engineering manager for Windows experiences, showed them off in a demo where she logged into her laptop with wearable bands and a contactless ID card, eschewing the traditional password route. This was a new side to Windows Hello, which until now had been largely associated with facial-recognition technology to authenticate the user.
A stylus that works with Microsoft's Surface device.
Image: Mark Lennihan/AP
Miller also showed Windows Ink, the digital pen support built into Windows. With Ink, Microsoft is showing a greater commitment to styluses and pens, building handwriting capabilities natively into its OS.
In her demo, she showed the new Windows Ink workspace, where a scrapbook is called up by clicking the stylus. She drew a couple of squiggly lines over a Word document to highlight portions of the text. Most impressively, during her demo with virtual sticky notes, the OS recognized her handwriting and called up stock and flight information and allowed her to reorder a list she had scribbled by recognizing that a list was created because she added dashes before each line.
It'd be impossible for Microsoft to leave its speech-recognition genie, Cortana, out of the "natural computing" picture. Miller's demonstration showed Cortana being called up when she wrote a reminder note, with Cortana offering to schedule an alert for her.
But it's in augmented reality that Cortana really shines, said Alex Kipman, the inventor of Microsoft's HoloLens AR project.
"The most natural Cortana interaction is in a head-mounted display," he said, explaining that the speech recognition genie can be even smarter when it is fed additional contextual information about the user's environment, such as what the user is looking or pointing at.
But don't expect the $3,000 HoloLens to get cheaper.
Terry Myerson, Microsoft's executive vice president of its Windows and devices group, said the company is keen to be a part of AR's future, but it's relying on manufacturing partners to help shape the way we use that technology.
Don't expect the $3,000 HoloLens to get cheaper.
That's why Microsoft decided to open up its Windows Holographic platform on Wednesday, inviting developers to build apps and hardware for AR.
The idea is for AR to become mainstream eventually — with Microsoft central to the experience. Eventually, AR devices will come in different shapes and forms, whether that's with a controller or not, said Myerson.
He added that Microsoft's strategy with the HoloLens headset is similar to what it's done with its Surface tablet, where it's built a device to show off what it thinks this type of device should look like — but largely left the development of other similar tablets to third-party manufacturers. In short, that means the HoloLens will probably stay at this price point, opening the market to cheaper versions made by other companies.
"The HoloLens is a specific path we're pursuing, but opening the platform should push prices lower," said Myerson.
And tying all of these "natural" features together is Windows 10, said Myerson. The OS has been better received than its recent predecessors, Windows 8 and 7, in how quickly it's been adopted. 83% of all companies worldwide now run Windows 10, he said.
Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.