Head of Hololens Alex Kipman leaves Microsoft after 21 years
Hololens creator Alex Kipman is quitting Microsoft. His departure could be related to the changes in Microsoft's XR strategy. There was also a report of internal misconduct on Kipman's part.
Kipman is a Microsoft veteran who has been with the company for more than 21 years. Among other things, he developed the Kinect motion controller for Xbox before leading the Hololens team. Kipman launched Hololens 1 and 2 and was also involved in military collaboration with the U.S. Army in his role.
As Microsoft's mixed reality chief, Kipman was one of the leaders in the industry and also Microsoft's voice on XR.
Microsoft wants to re-align and accelerate Metaverse efforts - focus on Teams
Microsoft has not officially commented on Kipman's departure yet. Head of Microsoft Cloud and AI Scott Guthrie wrote in an internal email that Kipman's end at Microsoft was the result of months of discussions.
"We have mutually decided that this is the right time for him to leave the company to pursue other opportunities," Guthrie wrote in the email. He said Microsoft plans to "align and further accelerate" Metaverse efforts in the coming fiscal year.
Microsoft is reallocating Kipman's former division internally, with Microsoft's mixed reality hardware team becoming part of the Windows and Devices (W+D) organization under Panos Panay. The Mixed Reality Presence and Collaboration teams with Mesh will be integrated into the Teams organization.
"This move will strengthen and further integrate Microsoft’s collaboration efforts going forward. Creating compelling Metaverse collaboration experiences – especially in Teams – is critical, and the Microsoft Mesh SDK is increasingly becoming an integral component to deliver this," Guthrie writes.
Was that it for Hololens?
Most recently, there have been increased reports and rumors on Twitter that Microsoft is no longer looking to enter the XR hardware race in a big way with devices like Hololens. Instead, Microsoft is said to be focusing on software and cloud services. With Mesh, Microsoft offers a kind of communications infrastructure for various VR and AR headsets as well as traditional devices. Meta, for example, uses Microsoft's Azure Cloud for AI.
Hololens 2 could not live up to the hype in the business environment, primarily due to weaknesses in the display. The soon-to-be-released Magic Leap 2, on the other hand, has received good feedback all around after the first demonstrations, especially regarding the display technology used. Microsoft would probably need a Hololens 3 to compete again.
For less demanding tasks without 3D visualizations, such as video-based remote maintenance, simple data glasses without complex sensor technology, which are available on the market in large quantities and are significantly cheaper, are sufficient for companies. True AR headsets such as Hololens and Magic Leap have a very tight product-market fit with currently available technology.
Meta, Apple and possibly Google are therefore likely to focus on VR headsets with AR capabilities that offer more mature technology and are more suitable for productive use or entertainment, personal and in business.
Microsoft is rumored to be working with Samsung on such a device. Guthrie wrote in his email that Microsoft plans to develop "even richer mixed reality hardware devices as well as the underlying software collaboration platform to enable more immersive Metaverse experiences."
Allegations of verbal abuse and sexual harassment against Kipman
The website Insider described internal misconduct by Kipman at the end of May that could have been his undoing. For example, he allegedly internally demonstrated a VR headset whose image was mirrored onto a monitor. What could be seen were "several young women in skimpy clothing" engaging in an "overtly sexualized pillow fight." Kipman also allegedly behaved "inappropriately" toward some female Microsoft employees, verbally and by touching them.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has spoken out in the past against hiring "talented idiots" who take advantage of their high status internally to misbehave and harass others. However, according to Insider's internal sources, this policy is not consistently enforced.
Whether Kipman's departure in general or the timing has anything to do with Insider's report is unknown. Scott Guthrie's email does not mention the incident described above, nor does it mention any fundamental misconduct by Kipman.