Azure, HoloLens, game streaming, cross platform – with Minecraft Earth, Microsoft finally puts all the pieces together

Kip Kniskern

Minecraft Earth

This morning Microsoft announced what could be one of its most ambitious consumer projects to date, Minecraft Earth. The Pokemon Go-like AR experience set to come to Android and iOS, backed by 90 million Minecraft players and a host of Microsoft technologies, could be the strongest signal yet that the company has intentions to bring all of that to play into a cohesive whole. While Pokemon Go was the first indicator that AR and phone combined could produce a compelling game, Minecraft Earth could take that to a whole new level, one that could perhaps encompass far more than Minecraft, or any game, ever could.

Minecraft Earth brings together not only Minecraft and AR technologies driven by HoloLens and Azure, but a new way of looking at the technology landscape. Microsoft has learned to embrace iOS and Android, as they’ve done with the likes of Microsoft Launcher, and to let a Microsoft-centric worldview take a back seat, allowing the company go where users are, not where Microsoft is trying to push them to be. It signals, along with yesterday’s announcement about exploring a working relationship with Sony on game streaming, that Microsoft has big plans for low-latency high-availability data streaming, plans that probably go far beyond xCloud and Mixer or gaming itself.

Minecraft Earth isn’t just a play to get more sales out of Minecraft, although it will almost certainly do that, or get more users signed up for Microsoft services on Android or iOS, although it will most likely do that too. It also isn’t just about bringing AR learnings from HoloLens down to a mass consumer level, and you can expect that what Microsoft learns about AR with Minecraft Earth will filter back up into the enterprise. With Minecraft Earth, Microsoft is about to show the world that all of its work on Azure, the advances in AR already here with HoloLens (and about to get a lot more interesting with AR without a HoloLens device), and the work Microsoft has done with Minecraft (a shining example of where Microsoft didn’t screw up a gaming acquisition – Minecraft is a much better and more far reaching product than it ever had a chance to be alone), aren’t just siloed products existing only to compete against each other.

This is the first and so far best example of a new Microsoft, working to pull together a cohesive product and a cohesive strategy using a depth of services and technologies that almost no other company can provide, and that couldn’t exist without the company working together. With Minecraft Earth, Microsoft is putting the pieces all together, and a cute AR game is only the beginning of where this is all going to lead.