Microsoft Surface Woes in New England

Microsoft has a problem in New England.

New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick has spent his career destroying the hopes and dreams of the competition. If that was not enough he is now angry with Microsoft and their Surface tablets.

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Microsoft entered into a $400 million deal with the NFL back in mid-2013, beating out Apple and other tablet makers. The goal was simple: To bring the NFL into the 21st century and provide coaches and players with the most up-to-date information possible, in real time, on the field field during games.

The deal has been a mixed bag. The NFL started using Surface Pro 2 tablets during the month in which Microsoft launched a much improved Surface Pro 3, and on-air commentators, players and coaches continued to refer to the devices as iPads for years, giving Apple free publicity and rightly upsetting the big wigs at Microsoft.

Things have only gotten worse.

That is because this week, Coach Belichick went on an extended rant about his bad experiences with Surface, and declared that he would no longer use the devices.

The most heated issue prior to this latest problem occurred back in January, when the Patriots lost the AFC Championship by two points to my Denver Broncos who of course went on to win Super Bowl 50. The morning after the loss, Belichick complained about the many ways and times in which the Surface tablets the Patriots were using kept failing, most notably during a Broncos touchdown drive.

You can read my article that I posted after that great AFC championship where I wrote about the Surface problems on the Patriot’s sideline that day.

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Coach Belichick caught on video throwing his Surface tablet during a game earlier this season.

The malfunctions were so bad that the NFL required the Patriots to shut down all of their Surfaces during that drive, while the suddenly surging Broncos were not required to do so. So they were blind, so to speak, while technicians tried to solve the problem.

Belichick didn’t actually blame the Surface tablets for the loss but he repeatedly noted that these kinds of issues were “common”.

“I’m done with the tablets,” Belichick said this week, and about 10 days after he had an infamous on-field hissy fit in which he tried to destroy one of the failing devices. “They’re just too undependable.”

“I just can’t take it anymore,” he noted, adding that he would “stick with [paper] pictures,” which “several other [NFL] coaches do as well,” presumably for the same reason.

Is the Surface a Victim of Circumstances? 

Bill Belichick is 64 years old, and while many will believe that age and perhaps technology phobia plays into his worldview, don’t be fooled. Say what you will about the man, but he is among the winnigest of NFL coaches in history and his team has been the most feared adversary in the league for the past decade and a half.

To be fair, the Surface failures often involve communications equipment, which Belichick has explained is complex, with numerous on-field systems often interfering with each other. There are days when the game starts and the equipment is still not working, he says, despite hours of testing.

Not Ready for “NFL” Prime Time?

The thing that resonates with me is that the complexity and unreliability of using a Surface outweighs its benefits when considering the fast paced – high stakes of NFL games. High end technology, like Microsoft’s Surface tablets are complex and can become unreliable which will drive coaching staffs crazy as the game moves on – even if their tablets are locked up or rebooting.

“It’s basically a problem every week,” Belichick said. “For me, it’s a personal decision. I’m done with the tablets. I’ll use the paper pictures from here on, because I have given it my best shot. I’ve tried to work through the process. But it just doesn’t work for me, and that’s because there’s no consistency to it.”

Unfortunately Microsoft’s Surface may be “trusted by the pros,” as Microsoft’s Surface NFL web site claims. It’s just not trusted by the best head coach in the NFL.

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Microsoft Surface Tablets Fail Patriots

Surface may be the “official tablet of the NFL,” but a one-sided problem during the AFC Championship game Sunday between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots isn’t the kind of awareness Microsoft is trying to build by outfitting teams with its slates.

Microsoft executives watching the game must have freaked out when they heard the following.

“On the Patriots’ sideline here, they’re having some trouble with their Microsoft Surface tablets,” reported Evan Washburn of CBS early in the second quarter. “That last defensive possession, the Patriots’ coaches did not have access to those tablets to show the pictures to the players. The NFL officials have been working at it. Some of those tablets are back in use, but not all of them. A lot of frustration that they didn’t have them that last possession.”

“That last possession” resulted in a Broncos score. It wasn’t immediately known what the specific issue affecting the tablets was.

Denver, which was hosting the game, reportedly did not have problems with their Surface tablets. Another sideline reporter spoke with the NFL which said it didn’t need to shut down the Broncos’ tablets as only New England was having problems, and it was after kickoff. The same reporter also talked to a Microsoft Surface representative who said that the Patriots are using hard wires to “keep [the tablets] going.”

Twitter erupted with reaction, some even dubbing the situation “Tabletgate.”

Microsoft paid the NFL $400 million to put Surfaces into every facet of the game, though it’s not uncommon to hear TV analysts and others refer to the tablets as “iPads.” If it’s any solace to Microsoft, that probably won’t happen again after today.

Update: A Microsoft spokesperson has issued a statement reporting a network issue had caused the problem for the New England Patriots and not the tablets themselves.

“Our team on the field has confirmed the issue was not related to the tablets themselves but rather an issue with the network,” a spokesperson said. “We worked with our partners who manage the network to ensure the issue was resolved quickly.”

The problem lasted for about 20 minutes and I would suggest, had no impact on the game itself.

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Surface Pro 4 Free Docking Spacer

One of the minor mysteries of the Surface Pro 4’s launch appears to have been solved: yes, you can now find a Surface Pro 4 spacer online.

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What’s a spacer? Well, it’s been the answer to this question: If I own a Surface Pro 3 and a SP3 dock, and I wanted to buy a Surface Pro 4, would I be able to fit the SP4 inside my SP3 dock? Or would I really have to buy a new $200 Surface Pro 4 docking station, as well?

The answer to this question, has so far, been “No…but.” Although the Surface Pro 4 is nearly physically identical to the Surface Pro 3, a slight difference in the thickness of the SP4 means that the tablet doesn’t quite align with the SP3 dock’s connectors. As a solution, Microsoft originally said it would supply a free “spacer” to prop up the tablet and ensure a proper fit. Unfortunately, Microsoft apparently forgot to brief the employees at its Microsoft Stores, who had no idea what I was talking about when I asked about the spacer offer in the months following the launch.

You’ll need to visit Microsoft’s Surface Online Support Center and click the “Replace an Accessory” button. Register your Surface Pro 4 tablet if you haven’t already. You should then see the option to have Microsoft ship you the free spacer. (Microsoft will reportedly charge $6 for shipping.) For some reason the serial number attached to our Surface Pro 4 wasn’t recognized as a valid serial number, probably because it was a review unit.

surface pro 4 dock

Why this matters: As productive as Microsoft’s Surface tablets are, they become that much more useful with a Surface dock. The Surface Pro 4 dock offers four USB 3.0 ports and two miniDisplayPort connectors, an upgrade over the single miniDisplayPort connector and three USB 3.0 ports that the SP3’s dock offers. But the SP4 dock has also been plagued with a number of negative reviews, and who wants to spend an extra $200 if they don’t have to? A free spacer for the SP3 dock seems like a cheap, safe solution.

 

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Microsoft Introduces Two New Surfaces

Yesterday Microsoft announced a couple exciting products that have the very real possibility of slinging Microsoft into a very good place.

First we have the new Surface Pro 4 which is the next device in Microsoft’s highly successful Surface Pro lineup. A bit more surprising to me was the introduction of a new Surface Book which is a high-performance laptop with a detachable screen and a $1,499 starting price that puts it on par with Apple’s comparably sized MacBook Pro.

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Microsoft also unveiled three new Windows 10 phones: the Lumia 950, Lumia 950 XL and Lumia 550. The 950 and 950 XL both support Windows 10 Continuum, which allows each phone, if connected to a keyboard and mouse, to function like a PC.

The Surface Book laptop is really something a lot of people did not expect. In fact the level of innovation and support Microsoft is rolling out with this device shows the company clearly has Apple in its sights.

Also Microsoft’s demonstration of how its new Lumia phones can function as PCs was really quite impressive. The Continuum-equipped Lumia 950 and 950 XL are not only able to function like PCs when connected to accessories, but can simultaneously handle phone calls while performing other tasks.

Starting at $1,499 for a 128 GB model with sixth-generation Intel Core i5 processors and 8 GB of RAM, the Surface Book will be available in four other models ranging up to $2,699 for 512 GB with sixth-generation Intel Core i7 processors, 16 GB of RAM and a Nvidia GeForce graphics processor.

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Microsoft called the 1.6-pound Surface Book a device that’s “redefining the laptop”. The device features a 13.5-inch PixelSense display that can be easily detached from the keyboard. The 7.7-millimeter-thick screen can also be used with an updated Surface pen that comes with 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity and reduced latency, according to Microsoft. The laptop will be available for pre-ordering tomorrow.

The Surface Pro 4, which starts at $899, will be available beginning October 26.

I need to do a little more research here but the two new Surface devices both sound both enticing and exciting.

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Surface Pro Goes on Sale … for a Short Time

If you are looking to pick up a new laptop now may be the time to take a serious look at Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3.

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Microsoft has discounted its Surface Pro 3 by as much as 19% in a sale that ends today, likely trying to reduce its inventory as it prepares to launch the successor in three weeks.

The Surface Pro 3, available in Microsoft’s retail outlets and on its e-store, was discounted between $100 and $200, depending on the model, representing reductions of between 8% and 19%.

The sale began Tuesday and ends today at midnight.

An entry-level Surface Pro 3 — the model powered by an Intel Core i3 and equipped with 64GB of storage space — was discounted by $150, or 19%, the largest price cut in percentage terms, to $649. The smallest discount — for the 256GB model with a Core i5 processor — was 8%.

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The New Surface 3 Gets Air Time

Microsoft has started advertising and selling the new Surface 3. This is a lighter, and less expensive version then the Surface Pro 3, but for many consumers it packs enough power to make it a worthwhile investment. Microsoft has also posted a new commercial for the 10.8-inch Windows 8.1 tablet. The advertisement may be a little flashy for me and probably tries a little too hard to be “hip” but it does accurately demonstrate some of the highlights of the new Surface.

The commercial points out things like how light (622g) and how thin (8.7 mm) the Surface 3 is, along with its ports like USB 3.0, DisplayPort and its Micro-USB port for charging (a nice change from the pro charging port). It shows off its 3-position kickstand, its ability to run Windows 8.1 and all its apps and how it can be upgraded to Windows 10 when it officially launches.

While it’s not the most exciting TV commercial I have seen, and it may be a little loud this new Surface 3 ad does gets its points across clearly. The Surface line continues to improve and has come the closet of any other product on the market today of successfully merging the laptop with the tablet.

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The New Surface 3 Battles the IPad

Today Microsoft has officially announced the Surface 3. Not the Surface Pro 3, but the Surface 3. This was a surprise to many of us. This is a “non-Pro” version of Microsoft’s tablet which is geared toward families and consumers. However given the improvements over even the Surface Pro 3 (except for the limited kickstand positions), some businesses might actually consider adopting this new fanless device.

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Surfacing Against the iPad Tide

There is little doubt that this is Microsoft’s attempt to nudge into the iPad market. The pricing is aggressive and compared very favorably with the iPad line.

The price: 64GB / 2GB RAM / Wi-Fi = $499, 128GB / 4GB RAM / Wi-Fi = $599.

An unlike the Pro version there is going to be a LTE version here. Pricing for the 4G LTE models have not been set yet, but expect it to be at least $100 more. Microsoft has suggested that these models will be available through T-Mobile and Verizon later in the year.

You can pre-order today and through Microsoft Stores, microsoftstore.com and select retailers, and it wll be on sale beginning May 5, with availability in 26 markets by May 7. Display units will be on-hand in Microsoft Stores starting April 1 so you can get a demo.

Just like the Pro the Surface 3 will require new keyboard covers and accessories, which will be available when the new Surface 3 ships. A new Type Cover ($129), a Surface 3-specific docking station, a Surface 3 Screen Protector, and the Surface Pen ($49) sporting new colors (silver, black, blue and red) will be available. Unlike the Surface Pro 3, the pen is a separate purchase.

Well done Microsoft. I like this play at grabbing some of the iPad market.

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Surface Pro 3’s Windows 10 Problems

I am so glad to find that I was not crazy. After installing the latest Windows 10 technical preview on my trusty and much loved Surface Pro 3 I immediately ran into issues. The screen would not respond, the video would flash occasionally and reboot on it’s own. Not being a quitter I restored Windows 8.1 three times after finding the same sad results each time I tried again to get Windows 10 on my Surface.

I was surprised at this sad result because I have been running Windows 10 on my HP desktop and Acer Aspire S7 laptop with almost no issues at all.

Now day’s later I find that I am not alone. If you have a Surface Pro 3 I would recommend that if you are interested in downloading the Windows 10 technical build holding off until the upcoming new build scheduled for mid-February is available.

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Microsoft truly wants Windows 10 to work for Insiders, particularly those running the company’s own hardware, like the Surface Pro 3. In December, despite any new builds releasing, we saw Microsoft deliver fixes for the November release, further showing that the company is intent on fixing glaring issues to ensure Windows 10 can be used for testing and feedback, despite it clearly still showing beta software problems.

Last night, Microsoft released a fixed version of the Intel graphics driver for Surface Pro users. This version reports to  specifically addresses the video playback issues experienced by many, including me but as I suggested earlier I will just wait for the new build in a couple of weeks and I would suggest anyone with a Surface Pro 3 do the same.

To get the driver, dig into Windows Update to obtain it. Windows Update has been moved in Windows 10 Build 9926. To find it, see: Windows 10 Build 9926: Where’s Windows Update?

 

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Surface Support Comes to Twitter

Today Microsoft launched their official Surface Support Twitter Feed. This is available exclusively to Twitter users and appears, to me to be a winner.

The account has gained 1,200 follows in about 24 hours which is probably good news for Microsoft as it obviously demonstrates the wide approval of Microsoft’s Surface line.

What has me excited is that the account has already posted some useful content. In just a few hours, Surface users have posted several hundred support questions. Those operating the new support account have been busy, providing suggested actions to each and every support question that I can see so far.

If you own a Surface tablet make sure to follow the new twitter account.

You can find and subscribe to the the new feed here.

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Surface Pro 3 Strikes Back

Get over it Apple. I guess it's not funny when you aren't the ones writing the commercials.

Get over it Apple. I guess it’s not funny when you aren’t the ones writing the commercials.

Do you remember the Apple TV adds (2006-2009) when the “PC Guy” was consistently dissed by the “Apple Guy”? If you do then you can probably at least appreciate and understand why Microsoft has been recently running similar advertisements directly comparing their Surface Pro with the Macbook Air. Microsoft realizes they havea winner with the Surface Pro line and so 30 second TV spots are of course in order. What surprises me is that the Apple seems to be very upset with these latest rounds of Microsoft commercials which just does not make sense to me.

Just in time for the holiday shopping season, Microsoft has started airing a brand new Surface Pro ad that argues that their hybrid tablet/laptop is a better deal than the MacBook Air.

Featuring a Christmas theme and matching song, the 30-second ad titled “Winter Wonderland” celebrates the Surface’s competitive features such as its detachable keyboard, a pen and kickstand and desktop apps such as Adobe Photoshop, Office and Windows.

While this 30 second add is clever I believe that for the most part the comparison is accurate and unless you are seriously invested in the Apple world the Surface Pro 3 should garner your serious attention the next time you are in the market to replace your laptop and, as a bonus merge it with your laptop.

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