One of the main responsibilities in my job as an architect is to look at what’s happening in the industry, discuss with people closest to the sources and then experience the innovations for myself to help set direction for CDW and provide recommendations to our customers. When I first saw the Surface Hub, I didn’t really get it: Yes, it was a cool big wall-mounted tablet; yes, it was a videoconferencing device that seamlessly integrated with Skype; yes, it was a digital whiteboard; but other than saving space in a conference room by not having these devices separate, was it revolutionary? It’s not like we didn’t have these individual parts before, and does attempting to integrate them together in one device really even make sense? I’ll take you through my journey and tell you what I think, but I also want you to make the decision for yourself.

To prepare for a Surface Hub training session we recently hosted for our newest adoption consultants, I wanted to answer the following questions:

  • Are there new use cases that this technology enables?
  • If so, are they accessible? As in, what are the barriers to adoption of this new technology?
  • If it is useful, is its price point really warranted?
  • How does it compare to the competition?
  • What’s still missing and what do we know about the upcoming v.2 that Microsoft just announced in March?

What Are the Use Cases?

Let’s put aside the basic use cases that most are already aware of: conference room video and digital whiteboard. While there are some bells and whistles that are part of this solution that I’ll touch on in the competition discussion, each of these features in and of themselves are not revolutionary; they don’t really enable any new use cases, just enhance existing ones.

The demo that I have seen more times than I can count shows off the Microsoft Maps features as well as the shape drawing and adjusting of the angles in a triangle on the whiteboard. These demo really well but unless you are in a topography, cartography or geometry class, or maybe a logistics company, they have very little real-world application.

Simple Use Cases – Starting to Figure It All Out

Under the hood, Surface Hub runs Window 10 Teams edition, so it has all the typical Office applications built in from the factory. Note that you cannot install any old Windows application on the Surface Hub, but there are many Universal Windows Platform (UWP) applications that can be installed and have been designed to work with it. Some of the built-in apps actually have significant usefulness, though, so we’ll start there.

At first, I thought that there would be no difference between projecting a PowerPoint on a room display from my laptop versus having it loaded on the Hub; after all, the instructor in my presentation class always said to not look at the slides you are presenting and just use them as some quick talking points. What I found was that the extra features that I had available to me in a presentation, such as annotation, zooming, swiping to the next slide without having to have a clicker, etc., allowed me to convey my ideas more fully than I had ever been able to before.

Brainstorming was another natural activity with the Surface Hub. Try it with a group interactively using the whiteboard or one of the other brainstorming and mind-mapping applications.

Vertical Use Cases – Not Everyone Is Built the Same

While there are some generic use cases that apply to most people that use conference rooms, there are some that are not so ubiquitous. In my opinion, I think this is where the Surface Hub can really shine. The trick is finding the use case and application for your vertical and job role. For some, the answers will come quickly; for others, it might not be so easy, but I think as you explore, opportunities will arise for many and will connect you to that “Aha!” moment. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Manufacturing/Architecture: These are one of the easier industries as 3D modeling in cyberspace is a natural thing at this point. The touch screen allows easy rotation, annotation and zoom.
  • Interior Design: Imagine dragging, rotating, coloring and adding notations collaboratively.
  • Media Design: You can effortlessly edit planned print or digital media design with image resizing, changing placement and quick text updates in a group or remotely.
  • Sports/Newscasting/Marketing: When I first interacted with a video on the Surface Hub, I was amazed as how intuitive and fluid everything felt; the annotation, reference points and note-taking ability that is part of the built-in tools blew me away.

Microsoft has even more use cases in their case studies. Check them out! And read part 2 and part 3 of this blog series on the Surface Hub.

Learn about the Surface Hub and other Microsoft devices offered through CDW.

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