Jan 13 2017

How Megatablets Will Reshape Touch Screen Technology — and Business

Giant tablets like the Microsoft Surface Hub, Google Jamboard and Dell Canvas are creating new opportunities for collaboration and content creation.

In many offices today, workers have smartphones, notebooks and tablets. But what about ginormous tablets? Well, those are coming too.

Although it is still a nascent device category (without a defined name), the large-screen touch screen technology is becoming more common. These devices are designed for users in offices to enhance collaboration and content creation, but can also be used as a way for customers to interact with businesses.

The products that are emerging in the category are niche and expensive, but over the next few years, they are likely going to become more common, especially as users discover new applications and use cases for them.

A Range of Use Cases for Giant Touch Screen Technology

As the Wall Street Journal recently detailed, the devices — any touch screen device with a screen larger than 13 inches — can be used in a wide variety of business settings. Additionally, no one vendor is dominant in the market because the category is still emerging, though Microsoft’s Surface Hub has an early lead in mindshare and sales.

The devices augment the ways in which people interact with touch screen user interfaces. The megatablets can be used in a conference room, mounted on a wall or put on a table so that users can manipulate the same content, edit a document or add elements to a design while they are all in the same room.

As the Journal notes, “these ginormablets combine four devices found in most office conference rooms:" a whiteboard, a video conferencing system, a projection system and notebooks people use in meetings to take notes and edit shared documents. The Surface Hub, which comes in 55- and 84-inch variants, lets users manipulate content with a stylus or their fingers.

While the Surface Hub runs on Windows 10, the Journal reports that most of the devices in the category can run Tactivos’ collaboration software Mural, “which lets a roomful of people write, add sticky notes, bring in graphics from the web and perform a dozen other tricks on a giant, scrollable whiteboard.”

Beyond collaboration, some of the gadgets, such as Microsoft’s 28-inch Surface Studio PC, are geared toward artists and content creation. Some businesses are using megatablets to help customers order or find information easier. McDonald’s is testing out huge touch screen kiosks for ordering at more than 500 locations in California, Florida and New York, for example.

Bryan Bassett, research analyst for enterprise mobile device solutions at IDC, says that the main use cases are as a collaboration tool that replaces whiteboards and projectors at larger enterprises. The interactions that people are having with these devices are not necessarily new — they occurred on smaller tablets beforehand — but are now augmented, he says.

Bassett is intrigued and surprised by the Microsoft Surface Dial, a PC peripheral the company debuted with the Surface Studio in October. The Surface Dial looks like a hockey puck and allows users to turn it to scroll through documents, change the volume and expand or shrink images, the Journal notes. “Nobody has done anything like that,” he says.

Users can interact with large tablets to make changes to a blueprint, Bassett says, or edit a document collaboratively in real time. They also will likely be used in retail settings, as stores let customers search and shop for products. Additionally, the hospitality industry may be interested in megatablets, Bassett says, as restaurants let people place orders on them, or hotels use them to display maps of the facility or even place them in rooms to let customers control their lighting.

From the Surface Hub to the Dell Canvas

No single company has a commanding position in the huge tablet market, but Microsoft got off to a fast start with its Surface Hub, which went on sale in March after a delay. The 55-inch model costs $8,999, and the 84-inch 4K model goes for $21,999. In mid-December, Microsoft said that by the end of 2016 it would ship Surface Hubs to more than 2,000 customers in 24 markets.

“The average deal size we see in the pipeline is approximately 50 units, but we’ve seen orders as large as 1,500 units to a large car manufacturer,” Brian Hall, corporate vice president of Microsoft services marketing, wrote in a blog post.

Microsoft is also helping developers optimize apps for the Surface Hub, which Bassett says is smart. He notes that the success of a platform is highly dependent on the applications ecosystem around it, and that although Microsoft has a leg up because of tis Office suite, more apps are always helpful.

Others are getting into the game. Google in October unveiled Jamboard, which is similar to the Surface Hub in many respects. Jamboard, however, takes advantage of Google’s “G Suite” of cloud-based productivity apps, including Docs, Sheets, Slides and Google Drive. Users can also save their “jam” sessions in Drive.

Like Surface Hub, Jamboard also lets users connect easily with others not in the room. Wired explains: “Launch a Jamboard session and people can join in from anywhere using the Jamboard app on an Android or iOS device. They see a real-time feed from the board and can add text, photos, and drawings to the mix. The leader of the session can share it all with Google Hangout participants.”

Jamboard, which sports a 55-inch 4K display, built-in HD camera, speakers and Wi-Fi, will cost $6,000 when it debuts later this year.

More recently at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, Dell unveiled the Canvas, which is not an all-in-one PC like the Surface Studio, but is similarly aimed at creative professionals.

As The Verge details: “Now Dell is taking the idea of a digital drafting table and offering it to anyone with a PC. It’s unveiling a product today called the Canvas, which is a sloped monitor — not an all-in-one with a PC inside — that’s meant to sit on your desk, plug into your existing computer, and be used for sketching, animation, or anything best made with a stylus.” The 27-inch Canvas costs $1,799, while the Surface Studio retails for $2,999.

Where Is the Large Touch Screen Technology Market Going?

The large touch screen market is still young, and has a great deal of potential, Bassett says, but users are still figuring out how to best leverage them. “There really isn’t a limit to what a large touch screen TV is capable of,” he says. However, the market needs to get to a point where “the people interacting with them are familiar enough with them to take advantage of their capabilities.”

Until the technology is more mainstream and people are using the megatablets daily, Bassett says, “you will hit that wall of using this fantastic piece of hardware and all of the software that drives, and no one knows how to use it properly.” Bassett says he thinks that process will take a couple of years.

In terms of customer-facing devices, not every building or store is going to buy a Surface Hub, Bassett says, and malls, hotels and retailers may opt to go with less expensive Android-based smart TVs that let customers interact with them. Once the investment is made though, businesses can cut costs by doing away with paper signage or physical objects that require customer interaction.

Prices for ginormous tablets will come down over time, Bassett predicts, much like the case with HD televisions. However, the niche nature of the devices could inhibit discovery of new use cases. “There has to be exposure to the technology in order for people to really adopt it and actually seek it out,” he says.


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