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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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RE: The pilots can go f*** themselves
By aliasfox on 10/1/2013 6:39:57 PM , Rating: -1
Re: Apple. Two points. Delta's a large enough customer that Apple could have given them a sneak peak at what's a few weeks away. Two, if the iPhone is anything to judge by, Apple could announce on Oct 21 and still have more iPads ready to deliver on Oct 22 than Microsoft will have Surfaces. That said, if Apple had no interest in playing, it's their own fault for not trying to win.

Re: Surface Pro. What you say is definitely valid, but if they stick with RT and MS doesn't, what will Delta do five, eight, 10 years down the line? Windows on Intel may not be growing, but it sure as heck isn't going anywhere either. Of course, if Surface RT flops again then all Delta has to do is buy up all of the unsold inventory at fire sale prices next year. Should be enough to last them a while. Maybe that's what Delta management was thinking too? Hope it fails, buy the next decade's worth of supply for $50/unit, save money!

RE: The pilots can go f*** themselves
By robertgu on 10/1/2013 7:43:01 PM , Rating: 4
Please stop spreading FUD. If MSFT gives up on Windows RT and ARM; any application Delta creates on these Surface 2 will be using the WinRT runtimes which works on x86 Windows 8.

To reiterate: These runtimes works on Windows RT, Windows 8, and the envisioned future versions of these products. No need recoding needed. If they decide to move to Surface Pro next year, they can load up the programs created for WinRT on their x86 devices without any additional work.

RE: The pilots can go f*** themselves
By aliasfox on 10/2/2013 9:32:16 AM , Rating: 1
I guess I was misinformed then - if you can directly use RT apps on Windows 8 then yes, Surface 2 is fine regardless of Windows on ARM adoption.

As a side note, if you can run RT apps on Intel, what's stopping developers from making the next version of their apps in the WinRT runtime?

By inighthawki on 10/2/2013 12:30:26 PM , Rating: 3
As a side note, if you can run RT apps on Intel, what's stopping developers from making the next version of their apps in the WinRT runtime?

I would say the limiting factor is that apps written with the Windows runtime are restricted to fullscreen store apps only, and it somewhat limits the number of API calls you can make from Win32 in order to more "sandbox" the app for security purposes. Many people do not like these restrictions since it means they cannot develop desktop apps nor distribute their work outside of the windows store.

While a storefront like the windows store or the iOS app store is a great centralized location for finding applications on your particular platform, it is very restrictive of people who do not necessarily care about that. To get it on the store, your app must be certified and digitally signed by Microsoft, which can be a time consuming process (does it cost a fee to submit apps and updates, or is this no longer the case?) Sometimes a developer just wants to throw together a quick app that people can just quickly run, which isn't as feasible in such an environment. Imagine trying to write many of the useful command line tools we have today but being forced to make them into fullscreen applications. Not all apps fit that paradigm very well.

By jRaskell on 10/2/2013 12:45:06 PM , Rating: 2
The decision on which tablet to go with was made quite a while ago. Several months at the very least, possibly as much as a year ago, after which all the details of the deal got hammered out, finally leading up to the public announcement. These large enterprise deals don't even remotely happen overnight.

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