Microsoft's giant Surface Hubs finally ship

The new Surface Hubs build on their desktop counterparts.

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Microsoft's Surface tablet has become a success story for the company after a bumpy start. Like so many products, it was the third version that really took off. Now, the company is looking for lightning to strike again with Surface Hub, the table-sized version of the touch-enabled PC.

Early versions of the Surface tablet were used in storefronts like AT&T for live demos. When Microsoft came out with the tablet, it gave the tablet the Surface name and renamed its large-scale product Surface Hub. Then it promptly disappeared. It was delayed repeatedly throughout 2015 and the price was hiked once.

On paper, the Surface Hub looks very impressive and much better than the primitive, older versions I saw at the AT&T store. Instead of a tablet, Surface Hub is wall-mounted and looks like your typical big screen LCD TV. It comes in two sizes, 55-inch and 84-inch. It claims 100 points of multitouch, up to three simultaneous pen inputs, dual 1080p front-facing video cameras and a four-microphone array. Plus the 84-inch version boasts a 4k resolution.

They aren't cheap, though. The 55-inch and 84-inch versions are $8,999 and $21,999, respectively, after a $2,000 price hike last year. So it makes sense that Microsoft is aiming Surface Hub at the enterprise market with the goal of helping teams collaborate more easily.

Surface Hub works as an "interactive whiteboard," running Windows 10 and the usual Microsoft collaboration tools like Skype for Business, Office, and OneNote and Universal Windows apps. It operates like any Surface tablet, with users using either their fingers or a stylus to manipulate the device.

Brian Hall, general manager for marketing in the Microsoft Devices group, discussed Microsoft's plans and how Surface is used at length in a blog post announcing the availability of the devices, with stories about how companies like AstraZeneca, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and SHoP Architects are using Surface Hub.

He also cited a study of five Surface Hub early adopter customers by Forrester Consulting, commissioned by Microsoft of course, with some impressive numbers. The customers could realize benefits of more than $850,000 based on savings in device deployment and management costs, avoided printing and device purchase costs, and improved sales.

Companies that conduct meetings in rooms and collaboration spaces with a Surface Hub experienced a 75% improvement in remote attendee setup and post-meeting productivity, saving about 15 to 20 minutes per hour-long meeting that would otherwise have been spent on setting up video or screen-sharing services and completing meeting notes.

Your mileage may vary, of course.

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