Inside Microsoft's plan to bring 3D to everyone

Mehdi concedes, though, that convincing some users of the utility of 3D, particularly older ones, will be challenge.

"I don't know if it will actually appeal to everyone right away, and I think that might be okay. I grew up with paint by numbers as a kid. Kids today, they grow up building 3D worlds. I'm amazed when I see what these kids are doing in Minecraft. This 3D tool in the hands of this next generation — for sure they're going to know how to do that."

Goofing around with emoji and PowerPoints is one thing, but 3D could make an even greater difference in education. During my conversations with Microsoft, the idea of using 3D to enable improved learning experiences came up more than once. Microsoft is already doing this at a few select schools with HoloLens, but the democratized nature of 3D creation potentially takes it to a new level.

3D holograms are already a great way to teach things like human anatomy, letting students examine different parts of the body at will. But creation tools take things another step: When the student can go home and use a simple app like Paint to create a new kind of 3D tool that he can try out in class the next day, a one-way process suddenly becomes two-way.

It's a compelling vision. Whether it's holograms, PowerPoint slides or custom emoji, the 3D worlds Microsoft is enabling have real value. Moreover, 3D imagery brings an emotional component that 2D imagery can't match. A circle bouncing around a screen can be interesting, but the moment it becomes a sphere leaping toward you, it becomes visceral.

But if that experience is limited to just PC users, the full potential of Microsoft's vision will never be unleashed. In other words, the success of Microsoft's big 3D push will depend almost entirely on how far outside the Windows ecosystem it's willing to reach. That's really the only dimension that matters.

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