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Exclusive: Microsoft’s Panos Panay has a trick up his sleeve

Meet the mastermind behind Microsoft's massive new Surface Hub

Panos Panay is going to show me something awesome.

We’re in Building 87, where about 250 of Microsoft’s industrial designers, user interface experts, and hardware engineers work together to build the future. Everything Xbox, HoloLens, and Surface is created here. I’m here for an exclusive look at the new Surface Hub 2 lineup, and Panay, Chief Product Officer, wants to show me something larger than life: an 85-inch version of the company’s new whiteboarding and workspace wunderkind.

Is it awesome? Indeed, this is the whiteboard all others bow down to. That flimsy piece of plastic in your office? It secretly dreams about being this. The Surface Hub 2S does more than any whiteboard in human history.

“We now have a wall that’s not a wall that became mobile that you can move from room to room and create on. This is an innovation that nobody has or can do,” Panay told Digital Trends. “It’s our history of Surface, the tech we put together, and our understanding of the customer.”

But at the end of the day, even this epic tool for your teams is useless without the right software, Panos acknowledges. And that’s part of the promise of the Hub 2 – both the 85-inch version (price TBD) and the 45-inch, $9,000 model — which is much different from 2015’s Hub. Instead of mounting on a wall, it sits at eye level on an easel designed by Steelcase. It’s light — 40 percent lighter than the first-gen Surface Hub at just 61.6 pounds, Microsoft says. A battery lives about halfway between the floor and the base of the screen, and a power cord curls neatly around it. Unplug the screen, and you can wheel it to any corner of your office, meaning collaboration is no longer relegated to your conference room.

Powering the Hub S2 is a custom version of Windows 10 and Microsoft Teams, which has a “Brady Bunch”-esque view for meetings, a whiteboard app for collaboration, the power of Cortana, the Microsoft Knowledge Graph, and more. Down the road, Microsoft envisions meetings that work seamlessly, automatic transcription, and software that detects confidential information and blurs it out of meetings. Like Windows 10 Insider Upgrades, incremental improvements to the Hub 2S and upgrades to Microsoft’s collaboration software will continue steadily. This hardware product will evolve. The Hub 2 is a work in progress – just like your office, right?

“The workplace is always going to be changing. I think that is, in essence, the modern workplace,” Panay explained. “What this product starts to do is, it gives people what they need today, to collaborate.”

Panay stresses that the product is an evolution, the workplace a journey, and Microsoft aims to help get people where they’re going.

“The beauty of this product – the combination of hardware and software – we’re not only going meet you where you are, we’re going to help you get where you’re going, and our products are going to be there when you get there,” he told Digital Trends.

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