Microsoft's Surface Flub

There has been a lot of buzz in the audiovisual industry surrounding Microsoft’s expansion from desktop and cloud computing to the pro AV marketplace. After securing a massive booth at InfoComm 2014, Las Vegas InfoComm attendees were treated to little more than a couch to sit on, an outlet to plug in their devices for charging, and a display to watch the World Cup tournament. Many AV pros took to Twitter, the blogosphere, or any other medium where people would listen to bemoan Microsoft’s grand failure.

  • A year later, it appeared Microsoft was ready to right their ship, so to speak, with the announcement of the seemingly impressive Surface Hub. This product was billed, by Microsoft, as “The first team device designed to unlock the power of the group,” an impressive platitude with an equally impressive amount of ambiguity.

The Surface Hub was designed to work with Microsoft’s existing telephony/UCC backbone—then Microsoft Lync, now Skype for Business—to allow users to not only use the device as a local monitor, an interactive monitor, and to “make meetings more productive,” but also to natively work with unified communications, reducing the [simple to overcome] problems associated with conferencing and collaboration.

Microsoft hit it out of the park; their marketing materials were on point. They used the right combinations of buzzwords designed to attract interest from enterprise IT departments, those who are most familiar with the full breadth of Microsoft’s hardware and software platforms, as well as capture the eye of audiovisual professionals, who for a long time have been designing, specifying, and installing enterprise-level conferencing and collaboration systems.

Microsoft even announced it was going to partner with a mix of audiovisual integrators as well as IT resellers to launch the Surface Hub. These integration firms are no strangers to audiovisual professionals and represent some of the largest and most well-known firms in the industry. Microsoft had built a product and a distribution method designed uniquely to ‘bridge’ the converging worlds of audiovisual and information technology.

How could something so right go wrong?

Well, due to preparing for “production at a broader scale,” Microsoft announced it was postponing the Surface Hub’s September 1, 2015, shipping date. Industry professionals were quick with skepticism as to the reason for the delay, and rightfully so. Twitter was flooded with less-than- positive impressions on the Surface Hub’s performance at InfoComm 2015 as many people found the product at that time as disappointing as the sweltering heat. Crestron showcased control and automation products centered on using the Surface Hub, which prompted many users, myself included, to wonder just how easy this system is to use if it really needs a control and automation platform.

Microsoft has a long way to go to even dip its toe in the pro AV marketplace, and so far, they’re not off to a good start. Several blogs have noted that it’s not a big deal that this product launch has been delayed. I agree—it isn’t a big deal the product is delayed. The big deal is that the product is clunky and difficult to use at best, and riddled with bugs and critical errors at worst.

To be honest, they’re trying to directly compete with products already in the marketplace that they’re licensing, including interactive displays from Sharp, Crestron’s RL/RL2, and SMART’s Room System.

Sure, Microsoft could eventually deliver a stunning product to the pro AV market, but I have my doubts. If it works as well, at launch, as some of their other notable flubs (Windows 8, Windows Vista, Surface, all of their mobile phones ever), then we’re certainly all on the edge of our seats awaiting to be underwhelmed.