Microsoft generated significant buzz when it showed off the features of Windows 10 back in January. Tech circles were clamoring about HoloLens, Cortana, mobile, and Xbox’s integration into the OS. What nobody was talking about then was Surface Hub.
The company announced today that the huge touchscreen computer designed specifically for meetings will be available to order on July 1 and will ship in late September. Folks are discussing the price tag: $7,000 for a 55-inch computer or $20,000 for an 84-inch — seven feet — model. The New York Times discussed Microsoft’s building the Surface Hub in the U.S., an uncommon place to mass-produce gadgets. And, just as Wired did with a feature on HoloLens, Fast Company released a glowing profile of Surface Hub’s creator, Jeff Han, who the magazine labels “a man with a dream” working on “a hyper-ambitious gambit to reimagine how meetings happen.”
So Surface Hub has finally gotten some ink. But whether the product sticks around depends on whether meetings really need to be re-imagined. Think back to your last meeting. Did the physical constraints of a whiteboard restrict the conveying of ideas? Was a laptop connected to a large monitor via an HDMI cable too cumbersome?
Surface Hub, if it works as intended, would make it easier for meeting participants to work on the same file, see the same thing, communicate with others — all the things that typically take place in a meeting. But frustration with dry-erase marker dust or a delayed party line isn’t enough to justify a company spending thousands on a Surface Hub. So will companies really buy this thing?
Those wanting a simpler conference experience will consider it, Directions on Microsoft analyst Wes Miller said. The status quo of meetings is a complex one — displays, teleconferencing media, and writing surfaces are all separate and must be integrated. “Microsoft has tried to put together a package of solutions … that can be the whole solution for telecommunications in your conference room in a way that no other device or system can be,” Miller said.
Surface Hub truly is a one-of-a-kind device. The display can detect 100 points of touch, and three people can use pens on it simultaneously. It has two high-definition cameras and four microphones that track voices to minimize the humming air conditioner or minifridge in the room. Mike Anguilo, vice president of Microsoft Devices, said in a statement that “Surface Hub will transform the way groups of people work together.” Jot notes in Bellevue, and your colleagues in Chicago or New York or Tokyo will see them in real time.
Transforming the meeting as we know it will be an uphill battle for Microsoft and for consumers. Miller said the biggest headwind facing Surface Hub adoption is companies ditching their current integrated conferencing systems, which often required significant cost and time to set up. And if a company does consider a Surface Hub, it must appreciate its capabilities to justify the cost.
“If you’re just looking at it and say, ‘It’s just a big display,’ you’re going to shake your head and walk away,” Miller said. “The thing is so much more than just a display, and that’s the thing that people have to look at. They have to really understand what it is.”
One thing to consider is that Microsoft already tried to sell a similar product. In 2007, the company announced Surface (not related to today’s Surface tablets), a table computer that ran Windows Vista. The initial marketing videos featuring cheery folks organizing virtual photos on the Surface intrigued consumers, but not enough for them to buy the thing.
To be fair, the original Surface was marketed toward retail, hospitality, and personal use. Nevertheless, it was a multi-touch interface just like the Surface Hub, and it flopped. Windows 10 will surely be better than Windows Vista, but for Surface Hub to be more successful than 2007 Surface, Microsoft’s work-first marketing has to pay off. In a day where we are somehow able to have meetings without a $20,000 facilitating device, convincing businesses to shell out that cash will be no small task.