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Microsoft gets a big plug, but not without some vicious rumors as well

Delta Air Lines, Inc. (DAL), the world's largest airline in terms of passenger traffic in 2012, gave Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) a big boost when it announced that it would be buying all of its pilots new Surface 2 tablets, which run Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8.1 RT operating system.

I. An Enterprise Win For Microsoft, Windows 8.1

A press release by Microsoft describes:

Device rollout to pilots flying the Boeing 757 and Boeing 767 fleets will start later this year and all Delta cockpits are projected to be paperless by the end of 2014. 

Delta's flight operations SVP, Capt. Steve Dickson, remarks:

Delta's electronic flight bag running on Surface 2 continues the technological strides Delta has been making to give our crews the best tools to keep them flying safely and efficiently.  This intuitive device puts key information at their fingertips right when they need it. By eliminating paper, we'll reduce clutter and minimize time spent looking for flight information allowing our pilots the opportunity for greater situational awareness in the air and on the ground.

The move comes in the wake of shift in how wireless devices on aircraft are perceived.  The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has found in recent studies that the weak wireless signals in narrow bands of wireless spectrum used by mobile devices were not capable of interfering with airplane electronics as previously suspected.  This has in turn allowed both pilots -- and potentially even passengers -- to use wireless devices like consumer tablets during takeoff and landing.

Delta Surface 2

In the wake of those developments most major airlines have replaced or are eyeing replacing their "old school" pen and paper flight logs with tablets loaded with custom flight logging apps.  Traditionally an airline had carried up to 45 pounds of paper for flight logs, charts, and manuals.  This massive accumulation of paper not only burned fuel by adding to the flight weight, but also led to occasional errors and time-consuming searches by pilots.

Surface 2

The switch from its current 38-pound paper flight bags to the more modern Surface 2 flight bags is expected to save Delta 1.2 million gallons of fuel annually, while also cutting the airline's paper consumption by 7.5 million sheets.

II. Pilots are Reportedly Disgruntled, Employee Accusations Mount

American Airlines (owned by AMR Corp. (OTC:AAMRQ)), the world's fourth largest commercial airline, adopted Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iPads for flight-logging purposes and has been rolling out the tablets over its fleet, ever since December 2011.

The pickup of the Microsoft tablets by an even larger fleet is perhaps the biggest enterprise win for Surface yet.  Delta reportedly aims for "full deployment" by the end of 2014, which would likely mean one Surface 2 for every one of its 11,000 active pilots.

Delta is paying Microsoft around $5.5M USD for the tablets, which will retail for $449 USD on the consumer market when they launch on Oct. 22.  Reports indicate this expense should be more than worth it -- eliminating paper flight logs will save around $13M USD per year.

Surface 2

Even better for Microsoft, Delta has also been giving its 19,000 flight attendants Windows Phone by Microsoft subsidiary Nokia, which used Microsoft Dynamics to track customer in-flight purchases.  The Nokia Lumia 820 began rolling out to flight attendants in August, according to Delta.

III. Pilots Lobbied for iPad (Reportedly), Complain That Delta is "in bed with Microsoft”

The first-generation Surface has proven a major market dud, even if it did receive generally neutral-to-favorable reviews and earn some respectful nods for its slick design cues.  After taking a $900M USD charge (loss) on unsold first-generation Surface tablets, Microsoft has been dumping them off on the market at bargain-bin prices, even giving them away for free as part of its "Bing for Schools" program that's ostensibly supposed to drive search engine traffic towards Microsoft's Bing.

While Surface sales -- as a whole -- have struggled, sales of Microsoft's Windows RT have been especially bad as consumers have forsook the ARM-powered Microsoft devices due to their lack of compatibility with legacy x86 Windows software.  The new deal could provide a boost to the struggling Windows 8.1 RT platform and vindicate Microsoft's decision to cling to poor-selling ARM devices.

But given this lukewarm consumer reception, it's perhaps not surprising to see some employees speaking out against the deal.  One disgruntled Delta pilot reportedly accused Delta's administration of being "in bed with [Microsoft]", according to Apple Insider.  He said, "We fought hard for iPad."

The Apple Insider piece in a roundabout way seems to allege that Microsoft agreed to route its corporate flights through Delta as a kickback to sweeten the deal, and heavily wooed Delta's information technology department staff.

Pilots reportedly wanted an Apple iPad.

As for the specs of the Surface 2 versus its current-generation Apple competition (the fourth generation iPad), the Surface 2 looks good in most categories, except trailing slightly in screen resolution).

The Surface 2 features a lower resolution display than the current fourth generation iPad (1920x1080 vs. 2048x1536).  The devices have comparable physical storage capacity (up to 128 GB), although Microsoft's Windows recovery partition consumes several additional gigabytes cutting the usable storage space.  However, the Surface 2 features more memory (2 GB vs. 1 GB for the current iPad).  Both devices weigh approximately the same, while the Surface 2 is slightly thinner (8.9 mm vs. 9.4 mm for the iPad).  
The Surface 2 packs a faster Tegra 4 processor from NVIDIA.

Both tablets use chips that license ARM Holdings Plc's (LON:ARM) instruction set.  The Surface 2's NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) system-on-a-chip appears to enjoy a healthy lead over the Apple chip in compute-heavy applications, and a narrower lead over its competitor in graphics-bound applications.  Apple's proprietary A6X 1.4 GHz dual-core chip was blown away (499 milliseconds to finish for Tegra 4 vs. 865 ms for the iPad) by the NVIDIA Tegra 4 in early Javascript Sunspider benchmarks, a compute-heavy application, while earning a narrower win in GLBenchmark 2.5, a graphics-heavy benchmark (57 frames-per-second, versus 51 fps for the iPad 4).

Sources: Microsoft, Delta, Apple Insider

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By Motoman on 10/1/2013 4:36:26 PM , Rating: 5
...they're giving these things to pilots so they can read flight manuals on them, right? Ergo, for that purpose it doesn't matter WTF the device is that they give them. Their employer is giving them a device to be used in the normal course of doing their, that's that. No basis to complain.

Pilots Lobbied for iPad (Reportedly), Complain That Delta is "in bed with Microsoft”

...or maybe the pilots are "in bed with" Apple? Or would like to be in bed with Apple? Or maybe they're just a bunch of self-righteous d-bags who think they get to dictate what device their company gives them.

In my head I imagine a room full of pilots being told they're getting Surfaces instead of iPads, at which point they all start whining and crying like 8-year-old girls who are just handed a set of Malibu Barbie dolls when what they wanted was Jersey Shore Guidette Barbie.

RE: Ummm...
By troysavary on 10/1/2013 4:47:31 PM , Rating: 3
Or maybe Apple Insider can't handle that someone would choose something other than an Apple product and fabricated a whole story of corporate shenanigans. Even if it is true that MS "bribed" Delta, who cares? It is normal for companies to trade perks like that.

RE: Ummm...
By Tony Swash on 10/1/13, Rating: 0
RE: Ummm...
By Cerin218 on 10/1/2013 6:27:15 PM , Rating: 2
I agree. I mean it's pretty normal for IT executives to wake up in the morning with random desires for hardware and software that will run multimillion dollar companies. They don't take hardware needs, software needs, existing infrastructure needs into account. They don't discuss with their staff or debate the pros and cons. They just wake up, choose something THEY want and laugh evilly as they FORCE people to deal with the choices.

You CAN make people use things they don't want. Espceially when you are an organization that can make those decisions. Our company forces me to use an iPhone as their supported corporate phone. That people actually PAY to use this piece of crap is beyond my comprehension. It's like Playskool created a phone. The saving grace is that it makes me appreciate my Windows phone SOOOO much more.

Your assessment of corporate environments is quick hilarious. There is no empowered users. You use what you are told to use. Even if that means your company uses Lotus Notes against your heavily vocal objections.

RE: Ummm...
By Tony Swash on 10/2/13, Rating: 0
RE: Ummm...
By chripuck on 10/2/2013 4:44:29 PM , Rating: 2
Oh come on, I have multiple iOS devices and if I want to be productive I pull out my Windows laptop. "Mobile OS" and "productive" don't belong in the same sentence.

RE: Ummm...
By InsGadget on 10/2/13, Rating: 0
RE: Ummm...
By Tony Swash on 10/2/2013 9:43:30 AM , Rating: 2
Keep telling yourself that PCs are dying. Sales are marginally lower, yes, but there are still going to be 318 million PCs sold in 2013. That number will stay above 300 million for years to come. Not exactly a dying market, just a saturated one.

The cliff is clear than you think

RE: Ummm...
By Cheesew1z69 on 10/2/2013 9:47:36 AM , Rating: 2
Right, because Win8 is the ONLY OS available... get a clue would you.

RE: Ummm...
By retrospooty on 10/2/2013 3:20:47 PM , Rating: 2
LOL... He says that as if Mac is gaining. It's been at 7% global for several years and hasn't increased a bit. Win8 isnt gaining fast enough, but 7 is still gaining. Mac is standing still.

RE: Ummm...
By retrospooty on 10/2/2013 3:18:45 PM , Rating: 3
Tony, call us when Apple figures out how to make a SINGLE iDevice without using PC's. Every iDevice and Mac is made in factories that run their businesses of MS PC's. Every planning, purchasing, inbound logistics, warehousing, shop floor, shipping, accounting, reverse logistics, CRM software etc etc... It all runs on PC's.

That drives you nutz doesnt it? /snick snick

No-one else is even working on an alternative. It's firmly entrenched with no change in site, not even at the end of the tunnel... :P

RE: Ummm...
By sprockkets on 10/1/2013 6:14:09 PM , Rating: 2
I'm an apple hater, but if you are going to read pdfs, a 16:9 ratio screen that the Surface has would suck compared to reading on a 4:3 ipad.

And I've seen the built in pdf and epup reading app that Apple has on their ipads, and nothing I've seen compares to it. Not Moon+, not Google reader, FBreader, Mantano, HTC's reader program, you name it.

I'd still not buy an ipad, but that's why people like it.

RE: Ummm...
By Keeir on 10/2/2013 12:41:02 AM , Rating: 2
Or maybe the IPad has already been used for this purpose by other airlines and Delta pilots prefer a more market proven solution that enables them to switch easier?

"A lot of people pay zero for the cellphone ... That's what it's worth." -- Apple Chief Operating Officer Timothy Cook

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