Today, Microsoft announced the Surface Hub 2, and like many of the company’s previous Surface products, it offers a tantalising view into a future filled with glorious touchscreen devices and effortless workplace collaboration. It looks totally sweet, and I’d love to have one on my wall at home right now. But after seeing multiple Surface generations come and go, I’m still wondering when all this fantastic tech becomes something that living up to its promise.
Equipped with a gigantic 50.5-inch touchscreen with a 4K+ resolution, the Surface Hub 2 is like an ultra-sized version of a Surface Pro. It features multiple webcams, integrated speakers, far-field mics and even full-on stylus support, so that anything you can do on a regular Surface, you can do on the Surface Hub 2, just a whole lot bigger. In fact, you can even rotate the whole thing into portrait mode and then hook up three more Surface Hub 2s to create an giant wall of interactive computing.
The idea is that by giving a display this big the same capabilities as the little laptop or tablet you normally carry around, meetings, presentations and all sorts of workplace engagements will be more productive. And when you consider Microsoft’s recent efforts to improve collaboration in Office 365 with better real-time editing and saved settings that get transferred seamlessly across all of your devices, on top of better file sharing in Windows 10, I’m sure all this would be true, that is, if this magical office environment actually existed.
But then you look back at the history of the Surface, in all of its various forms. The excitement I feel for the Surface Hub 2 isn’t much different than how I felt about the original Surface table from 2007. More than 10 years ago, the OG Surface promised to revolutionise high-tech entertainment with casino apps that could simulate a craps table, or improve the restaurant industry using software that would let you browse and order food from the same surface (no pun intended) you were about to eat off of.
Maybe THIS crazy idea from Microsoft won’t take off.
We say the same thing every time. Surface. Pro. Studio. But an ever-growing set of people love them.
Eventually, one of them WILL take off, and Apple will still be at square one because it thought the Mac was done forever.
— Marco Arment (@marcoarment) May 15, 2018
After the failed table, the Surface name was recycled for the ambitious Surface Pro and Surface RT. Even though it suffered through a few years of awkwardness while Microsoft essentially invented the concept of a detachable 2-on-1, the Surface Pro eventually became the flag bearer for Microsoft’s new era of computing. Next followed the Surface Book, whose accordion-style hinge and reversible display remains unique among the growing number of 2-in-1s, the super stylish Surface Studio, which is probably the closest thing to an artist’s perfect PC, and finally, the Surface Laptop.
There’s a whole Surface family now, and notwithstanding the measured success of at least some of those products, there isn’t really a single place that actually looks or functions like Microsoft’s wonderful Surface-filled world — at least not outside a Microsoft Store. You’ll see a Surface Pro here and there and maybe a a Surface Laptop, but that’s about it. And as for the original Surface Hub, Microsoft says total sales topped just over 5000 units (with many going to the secret boardrooms of Fortune 100 companies). The Surface idea, no matter how transformative, has yet to manifest itself in the world.
In fact, aside from a vague mention that Microsoft will being testing the Surface Hub 2 later this year (before it goes on sale sometime in 2019), there’s no mention of how much this thing will cost, what kind of parts are powering it, or how that cool screen rotation works. That means aside from some sweet preview materials, there’s not a ton we actually know about the Surface Hub 2.
But don’t take this the wrong way, because while I’m sceptical that this particular slick-looking Surface will be the device that makes everything come together, I love that Microsoft isn’t giving up. The vision is there, and Microsoft seems to be inching ever closer to making it happen. I’m just frustrated that it’s taking so long.