Earlier this month, Microsoft launched the Surface Hub, the latest example of the company’s willingness to break with tradition and challenge the way businesses work. Unlike its namesakes, the hybrid Surface Pro 3 and Surface 3, the Hub is a device specifically designed to facilitate collaboration and group work.

Based on the pioneering research of Jeff Han, the man behind Perceptive Pixel’s multi-touch interface, the Surface Hub is a hardware device that offers businesses a digital workplace, combining the features of a number of existing devices, including the conference phone, web camera and interactive whiteboard.  It is hoped that by combining these different functions, the Surface Hub will enable businesses to get much more from group meetings and collaborative work.

The innovative hardware is, in essence, an enormous PC, albeit one designed for groups rather than individuals. As well as a multi-user touchscreen, the Windows 10 Surface Hub runs built-in apps, such as OneNote, Office, Skype for Business, and Universal Windows apps. Modern businesses stand in need of technologically sophisticated tools that enable them to share documents, connect with colleagues around the world and actively participate in meetings, and the Surface Hub was designed with such requirements in mind.

The business focus is reflected in the price of the Surface Hub. The 55-inch model, intended for the smaller spaces and running on a Core i5 processor, comes in at $6,999. The second option is a significantly more immersive 84-inch 4k device meant for large meeting rooms and conference halls, which is currently priced at $19,999. It is worth pointing out the weight of both models, which weigh in at 105lbs and 280lbs, respectively.

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At this price level, Microsoft are hoping the Surface Hub will compete effectively with products offered by companies such as Polycom, and they are clearly gambling that businesses will be able to see the value in being able to consolidate a number of different devices into a single, all-in-one solution. This streamlining of conferencing and collaboration tools should, in theory, simplify things when it comes to IT management and maintenance.

More significantly, however, the Surface Hub could enable users to take a more hands-on role in meetings, and could have a big impact on workflow and productivity as a result. Design teams, for example, will be able to liaise with clients and edit CAD files in real time based on any feedback they receive. Similarly, important tasks such as project management and data analysis can be put at the center of the agenda with industry-specific apps, speeding up and improving decision-making.

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There are, of course, some important points to consider if thinking about deploying the Surface Hub. Competitors will be keen to point out that many of the tools offered by the Surface Hub are already available, making some of Microsoft’s claims appear somewhat overstated. Another is that, given the size and weight of the device, the Surface Hub may well have to be integrated into a larger workplace redesign. It is also highly likely that Microsoft’s entry into this market will see competitors follow suit by bringing out equivalent devices. Finally, some companies may wonder whether, in practice, multiple mobile devices will offer greater flexibility.

Such caveats aside, however, the Surface Hub does present a range of exciting possibilities for the way businesses work together. And, here at Kensington, we will certainly be keeping a keen eye on how this product develops, and how it can be made to work even more effectively for business.

Is your business already using the Surface Hub? Let us know your thoughts via LinkedIn or Facebook.

Images via Flickr: Penn State, Sebastian ter Burg