Just last week, the NFL’s most storied head coach, New England’s Bill Belichick, gave a 5 minute answer to a simple question about his feelings on the Surface Pro, which seemed to have malfunctioned during the Patriots’ Week 6 game against the Bengals. Belichick, who is famous for his quick, closed statements, was more than open about his negative stance on the device calling it “unreliable” among other things.
Belichick isn’t the only coach to have issues with the Surface Pro, the product that the NFL was paid $400 million to introduce to sidelines in 2014. While Belichick and a few other coaches have been awfully outspoken about their disdain for Microsoft’s tablet, there has been some raving reviews about the product as well. Let’s take a look at the Good, Bad and Ugly regarding the Surface Pro’s existence in the NFL.
Microsoft announced its $400 million partnership with the NFL back in 2013. People have wondered why players and coaches relied on a black-and-white photograph to analyze previous plays while we had better technology at our fingertips. It is certainly not efficient. You need a “runner” to run from the press box down to the sideline after each possession, and those pictures accumulate in large, cumbersome binders that can get confusing to sort through. Tablet technology has been available for more than a decade, but the holdup for the NFL was how to make these part of “fair play.” They also needed something that was rugged enough to withstand being jostled around and make it through the sometimes extreme temperatures during games. Microsoft was able to offer the league exactly that. They rolled out the Surface Pro 3 in 2014 and upgraded to the Surface Pro 4 in the 2016 preseason along with the app that they planned would change the league forever.
The coaching staffs and players are not the only ones who are able to utilize the benefits from the Surface Pro 4. Franchise administrations use them for day-to-day operations, including data gathering, organizing logistics, and saving important notes. Fans can also have access to the amazing new features offered on the Surface Pro. The NFL Experience app allows fans to pick their favorite teams and receive notifications for score updates, player updates, and even fantasy football scores. You can also get a high tech, special edition case with your favorite team’s logo.
The capability to review plays almost immediately with the Sideline app is supposed to offer coaches greater knowledge when it comes to play calling and making quick adjustments. “It took all of about 10 seconds to say these are better than expected,” said the New Orleans Saints’ head coach Sean Payton. Other head coaches, such as Seattle Seahawks’ Pete Carroll, agree. “I don’t know if it’s because we are so close to home base but, shoot, I think the quality of our stuff has been great,” said Carroll, whose team is owned by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. Payton and Carroll aren’t the only coaches and athletes praising the partnership with Microsoft and its new technology. But while some have welcomed this partnership with open arms, others have had their issues; some they can live with, some that they simply can’t accept.
While many teams in the league have had positive experiences with the tablets, there has been a fair share of negative feedback. In response to Bill Belichick’s less than glamorous review of the Surface, San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly stated last week, “I haven’t had any issues where they just don’t work. Sometimes it doesn’t work perfect and you have to shake it a little bit.” This sentiment was compounded by 49ers quarterback, a surprising social icon, Colin Kaepernick saying that the device often has to be rebooted and that he has many times had to knock it on it’s side to get the screen to unfreeze.
The introduction of the Microsoft Surface Pro, although revolutionary in the world of football, did not happen without some confusion, scrutiny, and bumps along the way. Major news outlets and in-game commentators for Fox, CBS and even the NFL Network have mistakenly referred to the Surface Pro as an iPad. Not only is this an embarrassing blunder that gives free advertising to Apple, Microsoft’s direct competitor, but it only further shows that Apple has cornered the market on tablets much like Kleenex has with facial tissue. Injured Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler took a shot at the device, calling it a “knockoff iPad.”
Other quarterbacks in the league have used the Surface as a way to take out their aggression after a bad play. Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers threw a potential touchdown pass for an interception last season against the Carolina Panthers, ultimately costing them the game. After returning to the sideline to review the play on the Surface Pro, he slammed the device against the ground in frustration. A similar scenario happened when Johnny Manziel, former Cleveland Browns first-round pick, threw an interception against the San Francisco 49ers. However, instead of flinging the device on the ground, Manziel opted to smash it against his head repeatedly.
Last week, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick took the dissatisfaction level of the Surface Pro to a new high when he went on a five-minute tirade making several negative claims against the Surface’s functionality. Belichick has sworn off the device for good due to a combination of negative experiences in the past and that week versus the Cincinnati Bengals. “I’m done with the tablets. I’ll just use the paper pictures from here on, because I just have given it my best shot” he said, adding that ”it just doesn’t work for me, and that’s because there’s no consistency to it.”
Microsoft responded to Belichick’s comments claiming, “We continue to receive positive feedback on having Surface devices on the sidelines from coaches, players and team personnel across the league.” One of the Patriots coach’s main quibbles with the device seems to be the loss of internet connection, a problem that everyday Surface users have experienced in abundance. Prior to 2015, Microsoft tried blaming the connection issue on internet service providers and their potentially spotty Wi-Fi, but later learned that the device had it’s own software issues and have taken steps to fix that issue. Steps that seem to have not worked properly according to the Patriots’ head coach.
The base of Belichick’s frustration most likely comes from the fact that this is not the first time he has experienced problems with the Surface Pro. During the 2015 AFC Championship, the Patriots found themselves in a similar position; needing to make a big play but their tablet stalled. Microsoft defended the accusations and stood behind the reliability of their devices (once again). The issue, most likely, was due to a poor network connection inside the stadium. With so much money on the line between the NFL and Microsoft, wouldn’t it be in both parties best interest to correct these apparent issues?
The negative publicity from the head coach along with other NFL personnel comes at a really poor time for Microsoft whose Surface products actually just hit $926 million for the quarter, a 38% bump from this time last year, and their relationship with the NFL and their commercials using the league’s players and logo deserve a lot of credit for that. It would be a shame for Microsoft if there was continued negative publicity on their version of Apple’s iPad, which is still performing admirably on the sales floor. Since the NFL is already under fire for overreacting to celebrations and underreacting to domestic violence, it would be a terrible time for the NFL to continue to force an unreliable product down the throats of their teams for a mere paycheck. Certainly, correcting the issues coach Belichick has brought to light would be in the best interest of everybody.