If your company has just purchased a Microsoft Surface Hub and you've been tasked with deciding which applications to download, you're in the right place. This article details the best apps that come preinstalled on the Surface Hub, a few apps you'll need to download from the Windows Store, and how they will help to ensure more effective business collaboration, productivity, and even some fun.
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Regardless of whether you've bought the $8,999, 55-inch, full HD model or the $21,999, 84-inch, 4K model, the Surface Hub will undoubtedly change the way you work. By the way, if you have no idea what the Surface Hub is, I suggest you read this primer first. But if you're familiar with the Surface Hub and you just need some direction on what apps to download and why, the following apps are a perfect place to start.
Keep in mind that the Surface Hub can run any Microsoft Windows 10 Universal app but it can't run apps specific for desktops and tablets, so your list of available tools is relatively small. The following apps are, in my opinion, the best available tools for business users or anyone who wants to make the Surface Hub a one-stop-shop for team collaboration.
Microsoft Skype for Business
The Surface Hub is primarily a note-taking and videoconferencing solution. There are a million different things you can do with the device but, at its core, it is designed to let you connect people and ideas. With your Microsoft Skype for Business app (which is already installed on the device), you'll be able to meet with up to 250 people, extend your screen to two additional apps for taking notes or conducting demonstrations, and share documents and instant messages (IMs).
Once you've got Skype all tricked out on your Surface Hub and your team's email addresses are added to the system, Surface Hub users will be able to schedule video calls (the way you would schedule a conference room) or just walk right up to the Surface Hub and call anyone with a Skype for Business account. Calling regular Skype users is a bit of a pain (as your Skype for Business server needs to be able to confederate with Skype for consumer accounts, or you have to set up a Skype for Business meeting and have a regular Skype customer join the meeting as a guest). But once you get rolling, the Surface Hub makes videoconferencing crisp, clear, and adaptive.
That's because the Surface Hub has two wide-angle (i.e., 100-degree field of view) HD cameras, a four-element microphone array, and passive infrared presence and ambient light sensors that know the side of the Surface Hub from which you're presenting. This means remote viewers won't see your nostrils or armpits when you get up close to the Surface Hub to start writing or drawing, as the sensors will force the Surface Hub to activate the second, distant camera.
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The Surface Hub's Whiteboard App
The whiteboard app is the crown jewel of the Surface Hub. Already installed on the Surface Hub and available on the Surface Hub's home screen, the whiteboard will be one of your most-used Surface Hub apps. It has got an infinite canvas that lets you scroll to your heart's content as your team conducts brainstorming sessions. Do you know how you need to erase your whiteboard when it gets crowded? Not anymore. You also won't need to snap photos of the whiteboard for posterity. The Surface Hub lets you email the contents of your whiteboard directly from the interface in a PNG document.
One thing you'll really love about the whiteboard app is that it automatically launches whenever someone lifts one of the two digital ink pens that sit along the side of the Surface Hub. So, if you need to take notes quickly, there's no need to go back to the desktop or search for the app; it'll just appear when you get ready to start writing. The whiteboard is also your final destination if you need to take a screengrab of anything on the Surface Hub. You can take images from other apps alongside the whiteboard, which you can drag into the whiteboard for marking or further analysis, or you can close the whiteboard, take a screengrab of a single full-screen app, and dump the image into the whiteboard app.
Microsoft Office 365, OneDrive, and SharePoint
Because the Surface Hub is designed as a community-based tool, it's not built to support file storage or personal settings. This means that, if you want to save files created or edited during a Surface Hub session, you'll need to log into your personal Microsoft Office 365 account every time you use the Surface Hub in order to save files to Microsoft OneDrive and Microsoft SharePoint. There are also more obvious reasons to activate and access an Office 365 account on the Surface Hub, such as cloud-based versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (which is particularly awesome on such a large and dynamic screen), but this is the primary workaround for anyone who is frustrated by the Surface Hub's lack of native storage. Standard Office apps are available on the Surface Hub but, if you want to give your team access to their files and the ability to save files, download the Office 365 app and tell them to log into their personal accounts every time they use the Surface Hub.
With these three apps working in concert on the Surface Hub, your teams will have access to all Office collaboration apps, email and calendar apps, cloud-based file sharing, and up to 1 TB of cloud-based storage per user (which is perfect for saving an abundant amount of PowerPoints and Excel spreadsheets).
If you're in need of a more powerful note-taking app than the whiteboard, try using Microsoft's OneNote digital note-taking tool. With OneNote, you'll be able to share your OneNote notebooks with remote team members and colleagues in front of the Surface Hub in order to simultaneously edit or analyze content. You can also share websites and documents that you view on the Surface Hub to your OneNote account for later or remote analysis.
Other features that OneNote has that the whiteboard app doesn't are check boxes that let you go over to-do lists or pros and cons lists, plus you can add a grid or ruled lines or customize formatting (like you would in a Word document). The whiteboard is meant for quick and easy brainstorm note-taking, while OneNote is built for more comprehensive and thoughtful meeting minutes and assignments.
Mural for Windows
If even OneNote isn't enough for your more creative and conscientious note-takers, the Surface Hub's Mural app is sure to satisfy their demand. With Mural, you'll be able to place sticky notes on an infinite grid-lined or blank canvas, adjust the background color, shift the size of specific images, form multiple canvases within one canvas, and let remote team members vote on ideas via the cloud.
This is only a must-have app for teams that have steroid-level creatives on staff. Otherwise, the whiteboard and OneNote apps should be good enough. But, if you want to empower your team with the best note-taking solution available on the Surface Hub, install Mural and see what they can do.
Cortana, Microsoft's voice assistant, can search the web and give you stock prices, weather reports, and flight information on the Surface Hub. It can also control the device to do things such as start and end meetings or ask when the next meeting is.
But Cortana is different on the Surface Hub than it is on a PC. For example: On a PC, Cortana can search your files and your email to provide you with personal information. Because the Surface Hub is a communal device, Cortana lacks the customized, personal interaction you'll find elsewhere. That's okay though; Cortana's still useful for launching apps and pulling in web-based data that you'd typically have to use a web browser to locate.
Microsoft Power BI
For the hardcore business user, Microsoft Power BI is a must-have on the Surface Hub. Although you'll have to get an account to download and use the app, once it's live, it makes data visualization absolutely stunning. For those who've never used the tool, it's a suite of business analytics tools that analyze corporate data in real time. Power BI's dashboards are designed to help you locate and organize data in visually appealing and easy to consume ways. Power BI integrates with 50 apps and includes prebuilt dashboards that sort data intuitively.
With Power BI, you can slice and dice data in multiple ways to show it as, say, graphs and maps. You can display data in story format, moving viewers through charts and graphs via dashboard builds. For our review of the Surface Hub, we were given an interactive dashboard depicting unemployment numbers from the Truman administration through Obama's current administration. We were able to click into each president's term to see how unemployment trended during his tenure, narrow down and look at each specific year, click on red buttons that offer detailed information (such as "Recession, 1980" and a text-based explanation of why the recession occurred), and view the data in sequential order by hitting the forward arrow.
Crossy Road and Netflix
If you want to give your employees a chance to cut loose after hours, there's no better way to let off steam than by playing video games and watching movies on the Surface Hub's gorgeous screen. Crossy Road is an easy-to-play knockoff of Frogger. In Crossy Road, you control a chicken and try to get it to cross the road without getting hit by cars and trains or by falling into bodies of water. Users can tap the screen to control the chicken or they can use the wireless keyboard that comes with the Surface Hub. Either way, they'll have a blast trying to beat each other's high scores (we certainly did).
If you've got a less interactive office, you could always turn on Netflix after hours and binge-watch a few TV shows or movies. There isn't any unique functionality here; it's just Netflix on a giant screen. But it's something that your employees will enjoy, especially if you opted for the 84-inch, 4K Surface Hub.