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Microsoft’s Surface heads to the sidelines in the NFL pre-season

Are you ready for some football? Microsoft sure is. On Sunday night during a pre-season game between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Giants, special versions of Microsoft’s Surface tablets were all over the sidelines. Depending on how well the experiment works out, quarterbacks and coaches may soon say bye-bye to their binders and hello to an NFL-approved version of the Surface.

Lately, the NFL has begun to embrace new technologies, including smart tracking of players’ movements on the field, which should arrive this season. Just last year, Surface tablets were used by the NFL to help coaches keep tabs on their players’ health.

The Surface tablets that were on the sidelines last night are much more rugged than their consumer counterparts and offer severely limited functionality, so as not to give the more tech-savvy team the advantage. The NFL’s Surface tablets feature a rugged build and waterproof screens, have no cameras, and can only access in-stadium Wi-Fi. The tablets basically run only one app, called the Sideline Viewing System (SVS), so players and coaches can’t even access YouTube.

Surface NFL tablet

In other words, these Surface tablets mean business. The main point of having the tablets on the field is to allow coaches and players to review plays more quickly, take notes on what’s going on in the game, and save plays to review later. Coaches and players also get the benefit of seeing all that info in full color on a more portable device. They can also use the Surface stylus to draw diagrams, outline plays, and make other annotations on images from the game.

The NFL keeps the tablets under lock and key when they’re not in play, so that no one can tamper with the team’s private strategies and info during the week.

At this point, the Surface tablets have only been used during one game, so the verdict is still out on how much they enhance life on the sidelines.  After the game, Bills coach Doug Marrone said his Surface didn’t work.

“I was told mine was going to work, and mine didn’t work,” Marrone said to WGR 550 AM in Buffalo. “They said they would get it right, and it was miscommunication. But I was excited. I did use it in the second half, and I like it a lot.”

One viewer noted that the coaches seemed to be sticking to their paper playbooks during the game, even though the NFL did a little promotional clip about the tablets.

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