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On HoloLens and other brand marketing

Last week Microsoft pulled a blinder. I’d only just started getting excited about Magic Leap’s new patents when Microsoft – of all brands – published a polished film visualizing their new AR device.

Not since Amazon slapped a logo on the side of a drone on the day of a bad tax announcement has the news been so compressively spun to a technology brand’s benefit.

R&D has become a big part of brand marketing for tech firms. In an age of easily sharable content and cynicism about advertising, showing a (semi) credible vision of the future pays huge dividends for the masterbrand. The product doesn’t even need to be ready to instill excitement in your innovations and optimism for the future.

The actual products in the moving-faster-than-anyone-expected worlds of AR and VR (Magic Leap, HoloLens, Oculus Rift, Glass) might or might not be better than one another. But the credit that the masterbrand for each is getting varies hugely. In this game, timing is everything.

Figure it out then launch it

Magic Leap is still in stealth mode but with similar looking tech to HoloLens (although Microsoft were notably quiet about this). The relatively quiet buzz shows an amazing vision, and the credentials and big money behind it are impeccable, but only for those of us left skimming through patent applications. In the eyes of consumers Microsoft has hopped unexpectedly into the lead. For the time being at least.

Facebook’s Oculus Rift seems like a longer-term play. But whilst they still have most developers with them, they risk being overtaken and confused by the wider public. Their CEO commented on the rush when he warned about competitors “putting out product that isn’t quite ready”. So far none of this helps Facebook’s brand: they need to announce something soon that shows how Facebook is helping.

I’m still more excited by Magic Leap: there’s something about the unknown. It’ll now be hard for Microsoft to live up to the demo in the real product. And by using the hologram metaphor so loosely they set expectations that are impossible to meet. But even if the product ends up being weaker than the competition they have improved people’s perceptions of Microsoft at a time when they really need it.