On Tuesday, Microsoft unveiled the Surface Hub 2, a successor—more in spirit than in design—to the company's original digital whiteboard, which launched in March 2016. While both products are effectively large format displays with built-in computing, intended for enterprise productivity use cases, the Surface Hub 2 is a very different product than its forbearer.
Announced in a Microsoft blog post, the Surface Hub 2 is effectively a 50.5" wall-mountable tablet, with a 3:2 display that the company touts as being "4K+," which can be used either in landscape or portrait view. The new model is intended to be paired with identical units and used as a tiled computer, the post said, allowing multiple pieces of content to be viewed side-by-side. The design allows up to four screens to be tiled in any configuration, and supports multitouch and pen input.
For portable deployments, Microsoft has new stands developed by Steelcase to make moving the system easier, in addition to traditional wall mounts. The new model is also significantly lighter than the original model. The 55" version of the Surface Hub weighed in at 106 pounds (48 kg), though ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley reports that "each panel" of the new model will be "roughly between 55 and 77 pounds (25 to 35 kg)." It is unclear if the discrepancy is due to variances anticipated between the pre-production model and the final design, or if this is due to differing SKUs.
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The Surface Hub 2 can be used with Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Whiteboard, Office 365, and Windows 10, the post noted. Whether in a tiled configuration, or standalone, the goal of the Surface Hub 2 is to help the technology "fade into the background" and make collaboration and meetings more natural, the post said.This is further helped by rotating 4K cameras, integrated speakers, and far field mic arrays to improve immersion.
"Using multi-user sign in, multiple people can authenticate in the same Surface Hub 2 workspace, allowing them to simultaneously access their documents and ideas, merging them with the ideas of their teammates - and making collaboration as natural as meeting at a whiteboard," the post said.
Microsoft is particularly tight-lipped on exact specifications, as there is no indication of what hardware powers the Surface Hub 2, or how much the units will cost. The aforementioned ZDNet report quotes Robin Seiler, general manager of hardware engineering for Surface Hub, as saying pricing will be "in line with similar competitive devices." The last-generation version had two models, the 55" 1080p unit for $9,000, and an 84" 4K unit for $22,000. For comparison, Google's 55" 4K Jamboard is $5,000, but requires a $600 per year management and support fee.
The Surface Hub family is the successor to the "Multi-Touch Collaboration Wall," a system developed by Perceptive Pixel, which Microsoft acquired in July 2012. This iteration of the design is perhaps most famous for being used by CNN correspondent John King in the 2008 US Presidential Election. Microsoft closed Perceptive Pixel's Oregon manufacturing facility in 2017, as production of the system was moved to the facilities that produce other Surface products.
Microsoft indicated that the company has sold the Surface Hub "to more than 5000 customers across 25 markets," including over half of Fortune 100 companies. Microsoft indicated that the Surface Hub 2 will be tested with "select commercial customers" in 2018, and available for purchase in 2019.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Microsoft's Surface Hub 2 is a 50.5" 4K+ tiling wall-mountable tablet intended to make collaboration easier with 4K video and tiling capabilities.
- General availability for the SUrface Hub 2 is expected for next year. Pricing and specs are yet to be announced, though the last-generation 55" 1080p version was $9,000.
- Windows 10 April 2018 Update: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- Microsoft Surface Hub: Hands-on with the giant, expensive collaboration screen (ZDNet)
- Windows 10 April 2018 Update: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
- Microsoft Surface Hub chief, Holoportation researchers leave to form stealth startup (ZDNet)
- A business laptop with 3 screens? Microsoft patent filing points at multi-screen folding device (TechRepublic)
James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.