Microsoft dismissed Consumer Reports’ Surface reliability ratings last week, but a new internal memo sheds some light on the issues that the software maker has faced. Consumer Reports surveyed 90,000 tablet and laptop owners and found roughly 25 percent of Surface users have encountered issues by the end of the second year of ownership. Paul Thurrott has obtained an internal memo about Microsoft’s response to Consumer Reports, and it appears to suggest that high Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book return rates could have impacted Consumer Reports’ findings.
In a leaked chart, return rates for Surface Book hit around 17 percent during its launch period, and remained above 10 percent for six months. Surface Pro 4 return rates also reached around 16 percent during launch, but dropped below 10 percent after just over a month. Conversely, Surface Pro 3 launched with 11 percent return rates that quickly dropped below 10 percent and have remained at roughly 5 or 6 percent throughout its lifetime. The Surface Book has suffered from consistently higher return rates than any other Surface product throughout the nearly two years it has been on sale.
Microsoft suffered some major issues with the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 launch. When we reviewed Microsoft’s Surface Book back in October 2015 we noticed a number of strange problems. Bluescreens and driver crashes occurred frequently, and the docking app for the display crashed occasionally. Microsoft assured us that some of the issues would be addressed before consumers started purchasing the devices, but they weren’t. Microsoft eventually fixed them after four months of complaints.
While Microsoft struggled with the power management of Intel’s new Skylake chipsets at the time, other OEMs also suffered some minors problems but were able to quickly remedy them with firmware fixes. Thurrott reports that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella met with Lenovo last year and quizzed the company over how it was responding to Skylake problems. “Lenovo was confused,” claims Thurrott. “No one was having any issues.” It appears Microsoft’s own problems were the result of the company’s unique approach to the Surface Book, with custom firmware and drivers. While other, more experienced, hardware makers were able to respond quickly, Microsoft’s delay impacted reliability.
Microsoft’s memo, authored by Surface chief Panos Panay, also notes that the company has “worked tirelessly” to fix the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 problems. “These improvements were unfortunately not reflected in the results of this [Consumer Reports] survey,” hinting that the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book return rates likely impacted the Consumer Reports survey heavily.
Microsoft believes it has fixed these issues and that return rates have decreased over the past 12 months as a result. If that’s accurate then Consumer Reports’ next annual survey should reflect that, but until then Microsoft is on damage control. The memo reveals the company is planning to share “a comprehensive set of data that reflects the strength of our quality and our customer sentiment” with partners, retail and sales personnel, and marketing teams.