I took the light rail to the Mall of America on a whim on Sunday where I encountered an interesting sight. Walking along the second floor of the mall past the rotunda where Boy Scouts were racing their Pine Derby cars, I looked down over the rail of the walkway down to the first floor and a store caught my eye.
I noticed the clean, comfortable interior: well-lit with soft-colored floor and walls and a spacious layout. It was both attractive and familiar, but then I noticed the emblem above the door–large, glowing square quartered in red, green, blue, and yellow–which I’d never seen in this setting:
It was the Microsoft Store.
Curious, I took the next escalator down and approached the Microsoft Store when I noticed, directly across the hall from it, a very similar-looking store. The logo above the door of it was a glowing white apple with a bite out of it.
To my left:
To my right:
Doing a little reading, I found out there are several Microsoft Stores around the country located near Apple Stores. If Microsoft requests this, it’s a bold move. Due to the proximity some might say, “Whoa, Microsoft is keeping up with Apple.” or, upon further inspection, “Geez, Microsoft’s products really are better than Apple’s.” (Or vice-versa.) However, I think the most obvious reaction from people must be, “Boy, did Microsoft copy the Apple Store!”
Since 2000 or so, Apple has been the leader in innovating technology: music and music players, phones, tablets. Their leadership status with each of their products had been cemented when the rest of the tech world followed. Seeing these two stores puts another feather in Apple’s hat: sales and showmanship. (Still, all this does fall under the Steve Jobs umbrella which he, unfortunately, cannot hold any longer. I’m holding my breath for Apple’s first post-Jobs breakthrough as are stockholders, seeing Apple shares drop 40% since his death.)
Nonetheless, Apple evidently maintains its “it” factor in the tech world, their store busier than the one across the hall:
So Apple created the standard for stores as well, and Microsoft is chasing the leader once again. That being said, Microsoft’s store is very nice and their products impressive. These outlets are wonderful places to spread the word about their offerings and hopefully sell a few pieces along the way. Their ubiquitous computer operating system is on display in choice laptops by Lenovo, Sony, and other top-of-line-models. Their mobile operating system is shown on attractive HTC and Nokia handsets.
Cell phones and laptops are nothing new, but I’m betting most don’t know too much about their version of the iPad: The Surface. A nice employee (who stood at the entrance–like Apple–and dressed–like an Apple employee) was a big help in explaining this new device which sat upon wooden tables (again like the Apple Store). Surface tablet, though, is more laptop-like with a screen cover that doubles as a keyboard. It also has inputs that other tablets don’t such as USB. It’s fills a niche as I could see myself benefiting from should I plop down the money for a price which is similar to iPad territory.
Finally, Microsoft can show off its product with which Apple cannot compete: Xbox. Seeing kids (and grown men) playing the newest version of NBA Live on jumbo monitors was fun. Seeing others play Xbox on a large computer monitor showed me something I didn’t know could be done.
I’m not a huge Microsoft fan or anything, but did spend a decent amount of time in their store and now writing about it because whereas we all know about iPads and iPods, I’m betting most readers are about as familiar with their stores and products as I had been. So a rundown helps widen our view of the goings-on in technology and retail.