Apart from the Denver Broncos beating the New England Patriots 20-18 in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday and securing a spot in this year’s Super Bowl against the Carolina Panthers, one of the talked-about moments of the game came from an unlikely source: Microsoft’s Surface tablet.
On TV, millions of football fans saw the Patriots struggle with failed Surface 3 devices on the sidelines. Lingering shots of the nonfunctioning tablets along with commentary from broadcast game announcers painted an unflattering picture of Microsoft’s hardware during a crucial game.
Now, Microsoft is clearing the air surrounding the high-profile tech meltdown.
“I’ve gotten a lot of questions about this outage so I thought it was important to not only explain what happened on Sunday but also share some updates on our partnership with the NFL as we near the second full season of Surface devices being used on the sidelines,” wrote Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of the Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft, in a Jan. 26 blog post addressing the controversy. A network glitch, not the tablet themselves, was the cause of the failure.
“On rare occasions like we saw on Sunday, the stadium has network issues that prevent the delivery of images to the Surface devices,” explained Mehdi. “In these cases, we work with the NFL to quickly troubleshoot possible network issues so we can get the photo imaging solution to proceed as normal.”
As part of a partnership between the NFL and Microsoft, teams have been using customized Surface tablets since the 2014 season to review plays faster than is possible with the traditional printout-based method. Indeed, the Patriots were shown falling back to black-and-white printouts during Sunday’s game.
“Coaches and players who once relied on static, black-and-white photos of NFL plays to analyze coverage, can now use our Surface tablets to view more dynamic, full-color images, up to seven times faster than the printed page,” Mehdi said. “As a result, those teams are more informed, more productive and ultimately, more competitive.”
Challenging the notion that flaky Surface tablets were to blame for the outage, Mehdi said his company’s hardware has proved reliable on the gridiron. “In the past two years, Surfaces have supported nearly 100,000 minutes of sideline action, and in that time, not a single issue has been reported that is related to the tablet itself.”
Although the Surface had somewhat of a rough start in the NFL—TV commentators routinely called them “iPads” in the early days of the partnership—Mehdi said Microsoft’s tablet is cementing itself as part of the game day experience for players, coaches and support staff. “Surface tablets have become ubiquitous on NFL sidelines and in the coaches’ booth, and more than half of NFL franchises are also using Surfaces end-to-end, as playbooks, to watch video and as a laptop replacement in their front office to handle the administrative duties of running the team,” he claimed.