We’ve already seen Microsoft’s public response to the damning Consumer Reports takedown, but veteran Microsoft watcher Paul Thurrott has some insight into internal discussions that have been brewing within the company for quite some time.
For starters, Thurrott reports that initial problems surrounding the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book were blamed by Microsoft on Intel’s Skylake processors. More specifically, Microsoft internally (and to Intel) stated that the chips were buggy and the root of reliability, battery life, and performance problems with its new convertibles.
Microsoft even reportedly went to Lenovo for help, asking how they were able to design around Skylake reliability issues. However, puzzled Lenovo engineers responded they had no such issues.
Instead, Thurrott’s sources place the blame on Microsoft itself, and for its own custom drivers that were crafted for Surface devices. It was these drivers that were causing the numerous problems that customers were experience ranging from display responsiveness to battery life problems, to startup woes. Look no further than Microsoft’s extensive driver update history (specially Microsoft’s own drivers) for the Surface Pro 4 to see how long the company has been wrestling with its inner demons.
It’s also claimed that Microsoft’s ineptitude when it comes to drivers is the reason why more ambitious hardware products have been delayed, and why the company still has not embraced USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports on its devices — even on the newly launched Surface Laptop.
Thurrott also managed to get ahold of an internal Microsoft memo to employees from Surface chief Panos Panay, which took issue with Consumer Reports’ claims. While Panay acknowledges that there were quality issues that plagued the company at “the launch of Surface Book and Surface Pro 4”, he went on to state that the company takes quality seriously.
“[Microsoft is] conducting rigorous reliability testing during development to forecast failure and return rates, which are then continually viewed against [real world data] post-launch,” added Panay. “We also regularly review other metrics to understand the experience we are providing to our customers and our findings show our products are in a much healthier place than noted by Consumer Reports.”
Panay’s memo also provides some rather important data as well, showing that the return rate post-launch for the Surface Book in the months following its late 2015 launch was at 17 percent. Its sibling, the Surface Pro 4, wasn’t much better with a 16 percent return rate. However, Panay went on to add that the worldwide return rates had “consistently decreased over the past 12 months.”
In the end, this could be a turning point for Microsoft with regards to not only improving the public perception of Surface reliability, but also getting down to the root cause of the issues that have plagued the family. Consumer Reports has a lot of sway when it comes to the buying decisions of the “Average Joe”, so Microsoft will have to address this matter fully sooner rather than later.