INSIGHT: Is Microsoft’s Surface Hub a new device category?

One of Microsoft’s announcements last week was the overhaul of its digital whiteboard formerly called PPI — now rebranded as Surface Hub...

One of Microsoft’s announcements last week was the overhaul of its digital whiteboard formerly called PPI - now rebranded as Surface Hub.

As reported by Computerworld New Zealand, Surface Hub is an 84" 4K resolution (or 55" without 4K) all-in-one touchscreen computer with collaboration features for conference rooms.

According to Philipp Karcher, analyst, Forrester Research, the market for this device is primarily industries with requirements for large screen visualisation, 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 organisations,” Karcher says.

“We see a bifurcation of conference room equipment for visual communications.”

On the low end, Karcher claims more companies are putting just USB webcams in ad hoc collaboration spaces while on the high end, Karcher says Forrester is getting inquiries from customers taking another look at specialised hardware, but uninterested in telepresence for cost or functionality reasons.

“For customers creating these specialised collaboration rooms, whiteboarding and application sharing are just as important as video,” he explains.

With the dust now settled, Karcher offers his three initial impressions from Microsoft’s announcement:

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,” Karcher claims.

“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 optimised for Surface Hub in a custom Windows 10 shell.”

Surface Hub isn't in a new category; it's a leading example of a complete solution

According to Karcher, 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,” he claims. “Surface Hub does all three, but so have some other competitors for years — see the MondoPad, for instance.”

Companies looking at Microsoft for the conference room have two options

Karcher says 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-optimised solutions and a more flexible Windows 10 experience in Surface Hub that can run multiple applications on the same screen,” he says.

“No announcement on pricing yet, but we also expect these devices will cost more than Lync Room Systems.”

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