Is Microsoft’s Surface Hub A New Device Category?

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Philipp Karcher
January 21, 2015
with Frank Gillett
 
One of Microsoft’s announcements today is the overhaul of its digital whiteboard formerly called PPI — now rebranded as Surface Hub. Surface Hub is an 84" 4K resolution (or 55" without 4K) all-in-one touchscreen computer with collaboration features for conference rooms. The market for this device is primarily industries with requirements for large screen visualization, which there are many: Manufacturing, healthcare, higher education, publishing, architecture, engineering, and oil & gas being prime examples. 
 
However, digital whiteboards are increasingly attractive to all organizations. We see a bifurcation of conference room equipment for visual communications: On the low end more companies are putting just USB webcams in ad hoc collaboration spaces. On the high end we're getting inquiries from customers taking another look at specialized hardware, but uninterested in telepresence for cost or functionality reasons. For customers creating these specialized collaboration rooms, whiteboarding and application sharing are just as important as video.
 
Three initial impressions from Microsoft’s announcement:

 
  1. Surface Hub has the most integrated and natural experience in a digital whiteboard yet. We’ve been wowed by devices that cost $100,000 or more, and underwhelmed by lower cost devices that try to deliver the breadth of what Microsoft is offering here. Sensors that detect your proximity to light up the screen, automatically launching the whiteboard application when you pick up the pen, and wide angle cameras that show you clearly when you’re right up against the screen are nice touches. Microsoft also has an advantage over other vendors with custom versions of OneNote and Skype for Business optimized for Surface Hub in a custom Windows 10 shell. 
  2. Surface Hub isn't in a new category; it's a leading example of a complete solution. Some digital whiteboards lack videoconferencing, can’t run different Windows applications, or don’t allow multiple participants to share content. Pure videoconferencing solutions miss on two of these points. Surface Hub does all three, but so have some other competitors for years — see the MondoPad, for instance. We provide an overview of these tools and their key features in our report Whiteboard Applications Meld Presentation With Collaboration. 
  3. Companies looking at Microsoft for the conference room have two options. Microsoft’s reference architecture for Lync Room Systems (sold by Crestron, Polycom, and Smart) also combines digital whiteboards with videoconferencing. Buyers will have to make the comparison between these purely Lync-optimized solutions and a more flexible Windows 10 experience in Surface Hub that can run multiple applications on the same screen. No announcement on pricing yet, but we also expect these devices will cost more than Lync Room Systems. 
 
Check out our reports on digital whiteboards in the enterprise:

For more insights on Microsoft's announcements at today's event, including HoloLens, view my colleagues blog posts:

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