Surface Hub was developed from technology Microsoft acquired in the 2012 buyout of Perceptive Pixel. Back in January, Microsoft outlined some of the Surface Hub features. Last week, they announced a 55-inch version to be used in smaller “huddle spaces” with a retail price of $7,000 and an 84-inch version meant to be used in conference rooms that accommodate 7-10 people selling for $20,000.
Essentially the Surface Hub is a Windows 10 computer with a huge touch display. The company maintains that the unit can replace typical conference room collaboration tools such as a speaker phone, video conference system and projector normally purchased and installed separately. The Surface Hub also does videoconferencing in addition to in-person collaboration. “You can compare it to Cisco telepresence or HP telepresence, which is more expensive,” says J.P. Gownder, an analyst at Forrester Research. “It’s fairly inexpensive, because you’re solving that problem on some level, as well as the collaboration piece.
”The Surface Hub will come bundled with several Microsoft applications. According to the company, the platform includes support for Skype for Video for teleconferencing, and OneNote will, of course, be available so users can take notes on the screen. Microsoft Office will also come bundled.
The Surface Hub will run all current Windows-compatible apps and Microsoft has said that customers will be able to develop custom applications for the device. Look for the application-development aspect of Surface Hub to win over some hard-to-sell customers.
“I’ve been working on product development around productivity since 1993," says Mike Angiulo, who, as Microsoft's corporate VP for hardware. “If I think about what’s changed in terms of individuals doing work, your ability to create and communicate has gone up exponentially, with PCs and mobility and phones. But the conference rooms are exactly the same as they were when I started. They’re like time capsules. There’s a projector, there’s a whiteboard, there’s a conference phone.”
With the Surface Hub's collaborative tools, Microsoft is making an ambitious attempt to move those time capsules into the present day. Which is not anything like a guarantee that it will be successful. In 2002, for instance, the company launched Tablet PCs and said it expected them to displace conventional laptops within a half decade; they didn't. And its first foray into multi-touch computing—2007's original Surface, which built a computer into a table for use in retail environments—didn't go anywhere.
Still, no matter how the market responds to the Surface Hub, the fact that Microsoft is behind it raises the stakes far beyond anything attempted in the past.
Surface Hubs will be manufactured in Microsoft's Wilsonville, Oregon factory.