Microsoft’s future is three-dimensional. Up to now, we’ve seen the company embrace the notion in dribs and drabs, through the HoloLens and its work with Minecraft. But earlier this week, at an event in New York City, the company went all in, making 3D content creation a core principle of both its upcoming Windows 10 Creators Update and hardware like the Surface Studio.
Asked how long the company has been focused on the space, Megan Saunders is cagey. “Some time,” the Windows 3D Initiative general manager answers after a drawn-out pause. She adds quickly that she was also on the HoloLens team prior, drawing inspiration to help lower the 3D content creation bar for entry from her own children, who were interested in the space, but didn’t possess the necessary skills to operate complex CAD programs.
“Today, if you look at the 3D market, most of the toolsets are for professionals,” she explains. “If we can enable people to access that more immediately, then there’s a lot of opportunity for people to do richer, more compelling, more comprehensive things. We want to see what we can do to make that more approachable for people.”
The answer, in part, comes in the form of Paint 3D – a revamp of the company’s perennial graphics creation application that long ago became shorthand for bad computer art. The new version of the program certainly lowers the threshold by which one can refer to themselves as a “3D content creator,” but as one anticipates with Paint, the results are largely fairly basic.
But Paint – and Creators Update – are really just the first step in getting people locked into Microsoft’s broader 3D strategy. “It is an ecosystem effort,” Saunders explains. “There are several pieces that we will be rolling out, but Paint is specifically a beginning step. Anyone can download it, and then what we’ve done is integrate our 3D community with Paint, so it becomes easy to remix an existing 3D object.”
Also on the list was a feature that turns handsets into mobile 3D scanners, demoed onstage by Saunders herself when she captured a faux sandcastle during the event. “We’re going to start by launching on Windows Phone. We have a lot to still learn around that. Enabling the experience is kind of challenge. We’ve invested a lot of time thinking about how to make that easy for people to do. As that grows and takes off, we want to be where people are. We want them to be able to enjoy the experience on their devices.”
For now, it’s rolling out piecemeal to the company’s bigger software offerings like PowerPoint. In the future, however, Saunders and team see 3D content playing a much larger and more integral role in the way we use our computers and share information. 3D might become a new category alongside pictures and videos where we can store and share memories – choosing to keep them digitally or 3D print them for posterity should that seemingly ever farther off promise of consumer 3D printing ubiquity ever come to fruition.
“There’s potentially a new category in memories,” says Saunders. “People spend a lot of time capturing photos and videos of sentimental moments or friends and family members. We also have a lot of the same sentimental attachment to things, but we don’t have the same preservation tools. “