I was reading a recent press release about a new Acer all-in-one running Windows 10 when something occurred to me…
The new Acer Aspire Z3-710 (shown above, left) is a 23.8 inch touch display with a built in PC and video camera. It can be used with a mouse and keyboard, just like a typical PC, but it is also touch enabled, so it can be used as a giant Windows 10 tablet. That’s when I asked myself, isn’t the Microsoft Surface Hub basically the same thing on a much larger scale?
With all the controversy and discussion over the Surface Hub, are we missing the forest for the trees? Maybe it doesn’t matter if we like the current design and workflow of the Surface Hub and this is just a small piece of Microsoft’s bigger strategy, to make Windows 10 a viable UI for screens of all sizes.
The Surface Hub does have some unique apps and functions, but it heavily features Microsoft’s basic Windows programs. It comes standard with Office 365, so every Surface Hub on the planet will natively run Excel, Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, etc. Of course Skype for Business is a big part of this story, as Microsoft wants to continue the success of Lync with its successor. If you watch any Surface Hub demo, they spend a lot of time with OneNote and Skype. A Surface Hub demo looks a lot like a Windows 10 demo.
I don’t think Microsoft cares about the Surface Hub as a product, as much as they care about it as a product category. Regardless of its long term success, they will get a bunch of these in the workplace in the short term and get enormous feedback on what works, and what doesn’t work with Windows 10 on a large touch screen. Even if competitors create a superior and better selling alternative, as long as Windows 10 is the leading OS for large collab screens Microsoft will dominate the future of the meeting room.
Remember, Windows 10 is supposedly the last version of Windows. Any new features or capabilities will be through updates. Perfecting Windows 10 is Microsoft’s best chance to retain its software dominance, and that means perfecting it beyond the desktop.
One big way Windows 10 can gain a major advantage over other operating systems is to be the first one to beat the puzzle of working on all size surfaces. We use iOS, Android, or Windows Phone on mobile, and we use Windows 7/8 or OS X on our desktop machines. If one operating system worked interchangeably between touch and mouse/keyboard, on all device types (phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, big collab screen), it would certainly be a strong differentiator. I think this is Microsoft’s real goal, and the Surface Hub is as much as Windows 10 development tool as a product in its own right.
This only makes the big Surface Hub questions even more interesting. What will real people do when the Hubs start showing up in their meeting rooms? Will it be loved or hated? Will it get used or not? For now, we can only wait and see. But know this for sure, Microsoft will be very interested in the feedback.