Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) first mentioned the Surface Hub at its Windows 10 event in January. The device wasn't played up and it was little more than a footnote on a day when big reveals about the operating system were released.
Now, however, the giant version of the tablet has been formally introduced with its reason for being coming into clear focus. The Hub is meant for corporate conference rooms. It's a productivity device designed to facilitate video conferences while also acting as a pumped up smart board.
"There is no doubt in our mind that Surface Hub is going to change the way groups work together," wrote Mike Angiulo, corporate vice president of Microsoft Devices Group on a company blog. "Just as the PC revolutionized productivity for individuals, we see Surface Hub as a transformative tool for group productivity."
Microsoft begins taking orders for the new megatablet in 24 markets, including the United States, on July 1 with it shipping in September. Here's a look at all the particulars.
It's not cheap
The Surface Hub isn't for everyone. At a cost of $6,999 for the 55-inch and $19,999 for the 84-inch model, the price at least somewhat limits the audience.
Microsoft, however, sees it as a replacement for a number of expensive products that ultimately makes it a good value.
The device is designed for anyone to walk up and use, providing an engaging way to share ideas and information. It replaces disparate, conference-room tools -- including a whiteboard, wireless receiver, projector and audio-video system -- with an all-in-one system at a lower upfront cost.
That's an interesting take as it's not cheaper than the workarounds for those systems used by small businesses, but for larger companies with fully equipped conference rooms, that argument may carry water.
"While there are a number of devices designed to improve our productivity as individuals, there has yet to be a device that is truly optimized for a group of people to use together — designed not just for what we need to do, but how we want to work. Until now," said Angiulo in a press release.
A look under the hood
Laying out the cash for either Surface Hub will get you a machine with some fairly impressive specs. The machine is, just like its smaller siblings, designed around touch.
Both versions of Surface Hub are integrated with optically bonded displays capable of detecting 100 points of multitouch and up to three simultaneous pen inputs, dual 1080p front-facing video cameras, and a four-element microphone array that detects and follows voice to eliminate background noise during videoconferencing sessions. Surface Hub also features built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and a variety of ports for easy wired and wireless connectivity options, allowing devices to share content to the screen.
The Hub uses an Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) Core i5 or i7 processor (depending upon the screen size). It also has inking support which allows users to draw on the screen.
Where can it be bought?
Surface Hub is a business product so it won't be sold in traditional retail channels. Few people would walk into Best Buy or a Target to make a nearly $20,000 purchase, so the company will be putting sales for the device through its authorized business resellers.
"Microsoft is working closely with a set of strategic partners to make it easy for businesses to deploy Surface Hub into their organizations in a way that naturally integrates into their existing rooms and IT environments," the company said in the press release.
This is a bold try
Microsoft rarely goes after niche markets and the the audience for giant tablets at these prices on the surface (no pun intended) looks like that. In reality though the device ties together a number of the companies products -- Skype being the most relevant -- and speaks to its most important customer business.
High-end corporate customers power Microsoft's business and the Surface Hub is for them. It's expensive, but it's marketed to an audience that can afford it. And, of course, if it's successful, prices will fall or more widely accessible models will be released.