When Microsoft announced it was delaying the release of Surface Hub due to what it called “unexpected demand” for the product, there was predictable groan across much of the AV industry.
It wasn’t so much finger-pointing and resignation as a feeling of “I told you so” for many critics who had long expressed their doubts about Microsoft finding a place in the systems integration world.
But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again after a lengthy debate on AV Week about what it means to have Microsoft’s first major release into the AV world delayed: it’s a good thing they’re moving into the AV space, even if that first major splash has experienced a setback.
I’m even more confident in that opinion after hearing Justin Kennington of Crestron say a delay in Surface Hub’s release will be “no big deal” in the long run if it turns out to be a good product and after talking to Dale Bottcher of AVI-SPL and John Mitton of Red Thread, two of Microsoft’s launch partners on the Surface Hub.
Bottcher, senior VP of sales for AVI-SPL, spoke about Surface Hub at the recent Microsoft World Partners Conference and is excited about the opportunities it can bring his company in the future. Certainly, he’d hope that partnership would get off the ground sooner and now he realizes AVI-SPL is unlikely to gain any Surface Hub-related revenue this year, but that doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm.
“We know the delay isn’t days or weeks, but we’re still squarely behind it,” says Bottcher. “It’s a very important part of our future. There’s so much momentum and pent-up demand for collaboration. This represents a new way to meet. I’m OK with waiting so they can perfect the product.”
Bottcher knows Microsoft’s subpar InfoComm debut in 2014 led to “skepticism about whether they can be in this market” and the delay of Surface Hub will only enhance that doubt. But he’s confident once Surface Hub is released and deployed, those furrowed brows will become raised in amazement.
“I think they bring a lot of credibility to our space,” says Bottcher. “Having Microsoft part of this industry really moves the technology discussion further up the chain.” He compared it to when Cisco dipped its toes into telepresence by acquiring Tandberg in 2011.
“When you use this product, you see the possibilities of it. It’s the first product that I’ve seen that sells itself,” says Bottcher, noting AVI-SPL launched a microsite for pre-orders and demos shortly after becoming a launch partner on the Surface Hub.
Bottcher hopes Microsoft doesn’t push off Surface Hub’s release too long. The company is expected to announce in mid-August when it will release the product.
“I don’t want to see the momentum disappear,” he says. “This gives us more time to create bundles and solutions but I want people to stay excited about it and some of that will go away if they have to wait a long time.”
Red Thread has been doing Surface Hub demos for the last couple of weeks or so in the Microsoft Technology Center in Boston and “people like what they see,” says Mitton, VP of the company’s audiovisual group. He sees applications in corporate, financial and higher ed verticals so far.
“It’s important to get this in front of people because it’s a different way of thinking,” says Mitton, noting it’s too bad Red Thread can’t do the demos in its own office or at the customer’s HQ yet. “We want to get it in front of people and show them how it works.”
Mitton doesn’t worry about how the delay will affect Microsoft’s reputation among his customers.
“It’s technology; people expect there to be issues,” he says. “They want to make sure it’s done correctly and have confidence in the product, even if that means having to wait a little longer. It can’t be a year from now, but I don’t think most people mind waiting a few extra months. Any perception of this being a black eye for Microsoft is within the AV industry, not in the enterprise space. Outside of AV, they’re fine with waiting, although all bets are off if it’s an extended delay.”
Once Surface Hub is available, Mitton expects it’ll be about six months before Red Thread sees some real impact in terms of the bottom line from it.
“We looked at it as a long-term relationship,” he says.
According to Microsoft Surface Blog, Surface Hub devices will begin shipping on January 1, 2016.