The journey of the Microsoft Surface Hub

Microsoft has announced that it collaboration smart screen will be sold via the channel; but will anyone buy it?


For a company that has shifted its focus away from the Ballmer mantra of ‘products and services’, towards Nadella’s cloud and mobility vision, it’s ironic that Microsoft has announced the launch of yet another piece of hardware.

And not just any piece of hardware, but a massive 84 inches of expensive screen, designed and manufactured by Microsoft in the United States.

There are two models available; the baby version features a 55in 1080p screen and has a not unreasonable asking price of $7,000. However, if you want the behemoth model, which sports a 4K 84in panel, you will need to fork out a mouthwatering $20,000.

The mega-tablet will be distributed via the channel, through ALSO, Ingram Micro Inc., Synnex Corp., Tech Data and TD Maverick, and strategic resellers like Atea, AVI-SPL, Bechtle, CSI Collaboration Solutions, Inmac, Insight, Kelway, Misco, PCM, Red Thread, Telstra and Whitlock.

The Hub’s journey to market has been a long one, and its roots date back to the dawn of multi-touch technology.

In 2006, when the iPhone was just a twinkle Steve Jobs’ eye, research scientist Jeff Han took to stage at a TED conference to demonstrate what he had been working on. Han mesmerised the audience using a multi-touch gesture display; technology which is now commonplace, but at the time was reserved to the pages of science fiction.

Han founded Perceptive Pixel the same year and it shipped its first high-end multi-touch display in 2007 (the same year the iPhone launched). A year later and the firm had 15 minutes of fame as CNN used the technology to cover the presidential election.

Perceptive Pixel went on to carve out a niche in broadcast, defense, geo-intelligence, energy exploration, industrial design and medical imaging, until – in 2012 – Microsoft bought it out, under Ballmer’s direction.

As Nadella began reshaping the company, one would have assumed that any secret plans to create an expensive super-screen might have been caned; however it seems nothing could be further from the truth and in January 2015, Microsoft unveiled the Surface Hub to the world.

Although the smartscreen is based on Windows 10 and will run all applications natively, it has some well thought out features, both in terms of hardware and software.

The screen has two side-mounted 1080p cameras and the modified version of Skype for Business cuts between the two cameras to provide an optimal view of those taking part in the conference.

It includes digital pens, which once removed from their holders, prompts the screen to automatically enter whiteboard mode.

By tapping into Microsoft Exchange, it automatically logs attendees into a meeting, giving them access to their network drive.

It has Miracast baked in, allowing attendees to flick their content from mobile devices onto the big screen. It also has pretty much every other form of connectivity, both wired and wireless, built in.

There are clever software features too. The Start menu, for example, lives in the centre of the screen, rather than hiding it away in the corner of the 4K display.

But does its pedigree background and obviously well thought out feature set guarantee it will be a success? Certainly not. It is such a niche product, that it is unlikely to gain overwhelming traction. Add to this the fact that it is obscenely expensive and the market shrinks even further.

This hasn’t dissuaded Microsoft from doing it, however, and for that, the Redmond firm should be applauded. To borrow loosely from Field of Dreams, build it and they will come.

If you’re interested in taking the Surface Hub for a spin, get in touch with one of the channel partners mentioned above.


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