Microsoft and Apple Events

My thoughts on the Microsoft and Apple Events this week.

So this week has been full of tech product releases from Microsoft’s Creative Update and Surface Studio to Apple’s MacBook Pro release. I’ve let a few days go by so that I wouldn’t be caught up in the moment toward one product or another.

Microsoft Creative Update

Majority of Microsoft’s event was talking about the creative update. This update comes in the form of some updated apps with the premier one being Paint 3D. Paint 3D is an application which allows users to create art in 3D. I covered this in a previous post. I still believe the play here is to simplify the creation of 3D assets for the holographic platform.

Virtual reality

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Microsoft also announced some virtual reality headsets from their OEM providers. The prices of these start at $299. There also was a demo of what it may look like in the holographic platform using these headsets. Although I was hoping for a tethered version of the HoloLens at a lower cost this might be a good option still. We still don’t know the minimum specs for the computers needed for the platform but my guess is it is lower than the Oculus and HTC Vive.

These headsets do tracking differently than the other headsets on the market. The headset the proposed are doing inside-out tracking vs. outside-in. The Headsets on the market today with room scale utilize cameras placed around the room in stationary locations to track IR markers on the googles or other devices. With inside-out tracking the camera system is typically on the goggles and IR markers are placed in stationary locations. I believe the difference though in Microsoft’s approach is more similar to the HoloLens where it utilizes IR and depth sensors to map the room.

I like this approach much better than any VR solution today. Setup would literally be just scan the room with the headset. This has a lot of potential for the future of both VR and AR.

Augmented Reality

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Microsoft briefly demoed the HoloLens again showing a creation made in Paint 3D. Another demo showed how looking at a website in Edge could potentially feed you 3D models of real items you could test out in your home to see if you liked them or not. This does show a new way of shopping and that 3D will make its way into our browsers in the future more prolifically then it is today.

I was a little upset to not see more information regarding the HoloLens at the event but I see the direction Microsoft is going and it does look like an interesting future.

Microsoft Surface Studio

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The premier piece of hardware that was displayed during the event was the Surface Studio. This is a 28” all-in-one PC that utilizes the Microsoft Pen and touch to be a massive creative workstations. The hardware looks amazing but comes at a high price point as it is targeted at the creative space.

If you look at other devices on the market that give you this capability you quickly see a high price as well. It is a niche market. The king of drawing tablets Wacom sells monitors and some smaller tablet devices. Wacom’s 27” Cintiq costs $2,799.95. This is a display only no computer so you have to fork out another say $1,000.00 for a decent computer with GPU. You are already up into the price range of the Surface Studio which starts at $2,999.00. Even the high-end model is only $4,199.00. Seems like a deal now…

To me the design is a very premium product. This is one I would personally like to own in the future. I occasionally dabble in videography, photography, and 3D creation.

Microsoft Dial

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The smallest piece of hardware at the event was the Surface Dial. The surface dial shows that Microsoft is looking to innovate. This device allows you to augmented your computing with a physical device. At the end of the day it is a dial which can be setup for different uses in software such as volume control, rotation, and other manipulations. The tricks really come out when paired with the Surface Studio though. When the device is placed on the screen not only does the dial still have a use but you get a contextual menu surrounding the device.

I can see this creating a new experience. Imagine if you could have a couple different Surface Dials programmed for your creative suite to do different interactions. You would grab the one you need for a color palette and place it on the screen. You could grab one for manipulation of objects. This could be an interesting play if Microsoft works that into the product. Today though I believe you can only have one at a time.

Apple TV Update

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So on to Apple’s event. Apple started out their event talking to changes to Apple TV. The specific focus was around video content both on-demand as well as live. What Apple has done is created a new app called suspiciously TV. Wait I’m going to launch the TV App on my Apple TV, or is it I’m going to my Apple TV to launch TV… Confusing as this is the basic functionality is some of your content applications are curated into one UI. No more hunting for your next show that could be in Hulu, or HBO Go, or the Showtime App. Interestingly Netflix was no where in their demo and my guess is people have to sign up or develop specifically for it. More details to come on that front.

Apple also had Twitter as a guest showing off a new version of their Live video platform. Besides Twitters approach Apple also showed how you could jump to live events via voice.

All in all not that impressed with where Apple TV is at this moment but in general I’m not happy where any Smart TV or other TV based device is at.

MacBook Pro

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The large part of Apple’s announcement was around their flagship laptops the MacBook Pro line-up. I’ll talk about their new control surface later but overall on the hardware it was bump in the CPU, bump in the GPU, Lower profile keyboard, USB-C everywhere, and goodbye every other port except the headphone jack. We are about to live in a dongle apocalypse until the industry switches over to USB-C. The one nice thing is that any of the ports can be used for charging. I’m not certain I like the fact that MagSafe has been abandoned.

Looking at just the base stats it looks like a nice computer but it doesn’t scream innovation to me. Yay we made it thinner again… Yay it comes in space grey/gray… Yay it has 25% more color…

Touch Bar

So let’s talk about that Touch Bar shall we. Apple’s biggest innovation is putting a bit of iPad in your keyboard? Apple removed the function keys from the top of the keyboard and replaced it with a retina touch display. They showed off a few integrations with applications and the platform which shows how it morphs into different control surfaces based on context.

I think there is potential here but it will take time for developers to fully figure out the right interactions for it. I can see how it could be useful to expose some controls when you are in full screen mode with some applications but I’m lacking a good understanding of how it will improve my life. It actually forces me to look at my keyboard area which I haven’t looked at in years.

Final Thoughts

Before I bust out my final thoughts on either vendor my initial though is that it is good to see Microsoft and Apple going up against each other at some levels. We need healthy competition to push the envelope.

The fact that both of these vendors are pushing the price point up tells us something about the computer industry. It is officially niche. The people that use full functioning PCs is shrinking in the consumer space. Enterprise customers definitely will continue with PCs for some time still as the tablet and mobile market does not meet all the needs of productivity in their current incarnation. The consumer market  on the other hand can live on their Android and iOS devices. The folks that need desktop or even laptop style devices are creatives, engineers, and power users only.

If I was going to declare a winner of Innovation I would say Microsoft won the battle. I see more promise in their direction at this point of where the future may be. Between Holographic computing and creative solutions to fill the world with content the hardware they are bringing in the PC market seems top notch.

As for Apple I think they own the mobile space with Google on their heels now. Microsoft’s only strategy in mobile is to deploy their applications and cloud services which gives them a piece of that pie.

We are still in a very big transition in the technology space. Only time will tell which group will own the new future of compute in our homes and in hour hands.

Microsoft Paint in 3D???

Double post day. I must be getting ambitious…

So some videos popped online today regarding a new version of Microsoft Paint.

Why would Microsoft add 3D? Well my thought on this is two fold. How else are normal users going to create 3D content for the HoloLens? Also if rumors are true regarding an all-in-one Surface to be announced on October 26th, 2016 then they need some apps to show off on it. I think both use cases are awesome. The more 3D content creation we can get the better our AR/VR experiences will be. Everyone has to remember that Microsoft has opened their Holographic platform to OEMs so more devices will be coming as well as existing ones that will support that platform over time.

I’m working on figuring out how to get early access to play with it on my Surface Book right now. I’d love to play with it.

NOTE: Microsoft if you are listening give me a preview build to play with and I’ll do some screencasts with it.

Blender and Unity Part 1

As some of you know I’m focusing a lot of my personal time on Augmented and Virtual Reality. To create experiences in these platforms that are truly engaging you have to add 3D and animation or movement to your applications. In this blog post I will walk you through using Blender a free utility to create some 3D assets with a basic animation and import it into Unity. I will also show how to wire up the animation in Unity. In the end I will show what our creation looks like through the HoloLens.

To get started I first must cover some basics of how to navigate Blender. Interactions in blender utilize a three button mouse. The Right Mouse button is primarily used for selection while the left mouse button is for confirming things like scaling or rotation. The Middle mouse button is used for rotation, zoom and such.

Now open Blender. We are first going to delete Items in Blender to start fresh. Select the Lamp, Camera, and Cube and delete them by pressing the Delete key on the keyboard and then clicking Delete in the dialog that appears.

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Add a UV Sphere

Next I switch to front view by pressing the #1 key on the number pad (Not the #1 above your qwerty section of your keyboard. I also ensure I’m in Ortho mode by pressing the #5 key on the number pad.

Next we will add a UV Sphere. There are a number of ways to do this. One is to click the Add menu below the view port and select Mesh -> UV Sphere. A shorter way to achieve this is to press Shift+A and a menu will appear in your view port.

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Next we will duplicate the UV Sphere to create the head of our BB8. To do this we can use the Object Menu or just press Shift+D. This will create a duplicate move your mouse and you will see the object that is created. To place you left click. Next we will Scale this to make it smaller and place it to be the head of BB8.

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Once you scale and position the head we will then add a cylinder for it robotic eye. This is done by pressing Shift+A and selecting Mesh->Cylinder. We will need to scale it by pressing “S” and making it the appropriate size. We also need to rotate it by pressing “R”. To rotate on a specific axis you can then press X, Y, or Z. In the end we should have something that looks like this.

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Next to make our lives a bit easier we will parent our objects. First we will parent the Cylinder to the Head. To do this first make sure you have nothing selected. Then select the Cylinder by right clicking. The holding the shift key right click on the head. To parent you then press Control+P and select Object from the dialog. This will ensure that any manipulation to the head object will affect the robotic eye we have created. We now can parent the head to the body following the same process.

We are now ready for some animation.

The first animation we are going to do is just an Idle state where the head rotates back and forth. To do this we need to create some key frames. In my case I’m setting my view to Front (#1 on Number pad) I also rotated the cylinder to the left by pressing “R” and then typing 180 degrees. At this point it is time to add Key frames. To do that what you do is open the object menu on the right side of blender like below.

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To insert a key frame on location, rotation, and scale you hover over the area in the menu and press “I”. If you successfully added a key frame you should have something like this.

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The yellow tells you the value is key framed. Next we select a frame in the future like frame 20.

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We now rotate the head by pressing “R” on the keyboard followed by “Z” this will rotate on only the Z-Axis. We position where we like and we will see the transform menu is now Green meaning the values have changed but are not key framed yet.

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Again we hover over each value and press “I” to Key Frame them. Next we will move the head back and add one more key frame. In the video below I will show an alternative way to add the last point by using the Dope Sheet and copy pasting information.

 

Import into Unity

To import into Unity is very simple. By default you can just drag the Blender file into Unity’s Asset folder. This will automatically use the FBX Export from Blender. Once this is done you can now drag the asset into your scene.

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This will not automatically animate our character at this time. Let’s first select our bb8 model and in the Inspector go to the Animations tab. Here we will see our animation but it has way to many frames. We need to trip it by changing the end time to match our last movement of our animation. We can also change the name here to Idle. We will use this name in the future as well. You also will want to check the loop time checkbox.

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We now need to add an Animator Controller to our Assets by clicking Assets->Create->Animator Controller. You can also do this by Right Clicking in the Assets window and selecting Create->Animator Controller. Now you can double click on the Animator controller it created. This will open the Animator pane.

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In the Project Asset folder click the right arror on our model. You should see something like this.

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You should now see the Idle Animation. Click and drag it to our Animator pane. It will automatically attach to Entry.

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Now we need to apply the Animator to our Model in the Scene to do this you can drag the animator from our Project folder to either the object in the scene or to the Inspector spot for the animator. Now if you hit play our animation should be playing.

Congratulations you have now created your first animation. In a future post I will make it so we can control another animation from code.

Here is a full video tutorial of this but with additional steps like adding basic materials to our model.

Think VR is just a fad?

To me it is clear that VR (Virtual Reality) is here to stay and AR (Augmented Reality)/MR (Mixed Reality) is just around the corner. More and more companies are jumping into the mix. GoPro is releasing a rig and software to support sperical video content. Adobe is releasing capabilities to support VR editing and production. It seems every day I’m seeing some new article about either content or technology to support VR/AR/MR.

Magic Leap has also shown new content although no person has seen any form of hardware from them at this point they at least show promise for AR/VR similar to Microsoft’s HoloLens. It is only a matter of time until we better understand where VR/AR/MR truly will go. Many new companies are forming around this space as you read this. I myself am looking into the potential and can’t wait to get a HoloLens to play around with some of my ideas. It is a new era for content consumption as well as interactions. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

Reference Information

http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/blog/loop-virtual-reality

http://www.newsshooter.com/2016/04/20/nab-2016-the-gopro-omni-six-cameras-8k-image-360-video/

http://digg.com/video/magic-leap-demo-video

 

HoloCurt – My Experience with the HoloLens

So this evening I got to experience the HoloLens for the first time. My first thought before putting it on is there is no way this is as good as they have showed. I have to say I’ve been surprised completely. So much so that I literally want to drop $3,000.00 on a dev kit for myself to get on this bandwagon.

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HoloCurt

I was able to play with some of the examples it has. The way it scans a room and remembers where I put 3D objects is amazing. I even took it to a bar and used it in low light and it worked great. I see potential in this for sure. Being an owner of the Oculus Rift and now trying this. The fact that there are no wires is impressive. I do see real world uses for this kind of device and would love to be at the forefront of their creation.

See you all in HoloSpace if I get one…

Thanks Lance for letting me take it for a spin.