When the New England Patriots' normally taciturn head coach Bill Belichick goes on a five-minute tirade, you know it must be a bad situation. But that's what happened during a press conference with Belichick last week's drubbing of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Belichick went off on the Microsoft Surface tablets as being unreliable, and that came weeks after he was seen throwing one on the ground in frustration.
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"As you probably noticed, I'm done with the tablets. I've given them as much time as I can give them. They're just too undependable for me. I'm going to stick with pictures, as several of our other coaches do as well, because there just isn't enough consistency in the performance of the tablets, so I just can't take it anymore," he said.
The almost reflexive reaction has been to blame the tablets, since he pretty much did himself. And Microsoft makes a good whipping boy for all computing problems. For years, I've seen Microsoft and Windows take the blame for PC problems when it turned out to be bad RAM or hard disk errors.
Belichick goes on to say that there is a whole lot of wireless technology used in games, and that it's all league equipment.
"I mean we use it, but it isn't like we have the equipment during the week and we can work with it and 'OK, this is a problem. Let's fix this.' That's not how it works,” he said. “We get the equipment the day of the game, or I'd say not the day of the game but a few hours before the game, and we test it. And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Usually by game time it is working, but I would say not always."
So, the problem could be anywhere, including in the wireless networking, which can get fouled up rather easily. Most likely the problem is in the custom software designed by the NFL. We don't know how good their internal developers are, after all, and no one outside the league has seen the software in action.
Microsoft has some skin in the game here. It signed a $400 million deal with the NFL in 2014 to ensure that its Surface tablets would become "the official tablet of the NFL." Instead, one of their tablets got body slammed by the most successful coach in the NFL.
Microsoft has issued a statement on the issue, but they didn't say much:
“We respect Coach Belichick’s decision, but stand behind the reliability of Surface. We continue to receive positive feedback on having Surface devices on the sidelines from coaches, players and team personnel across the league.In the instances where sideline issues are reported in NFL games, we work closely with the NFL to quickly address and resolve.”
If more coaches start to echo Belichick's sentiment, this could all go south very fast for Microsoft—when it's likely not even their fault.