Stores in Contrast

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Microsoft Store Mall of America

For spring break this year, the family decided we will go to Mall of America for a shopping excursion. Personally, I hate shopping. Wandering aimlessly around a crowded mall full of stores of limited product selection and relatively poor service by tired and underpaid staff is simply not my idea of a good time. But for my family it is, so off we went.

Since I was going anyway, I thought I would make the best of it by touring the Microsoft and Apple stores, especially since they are right across from each other. Prior to going on this excursion, I was all in the Apple camp. I had tried other things and always came away from the experience less than satisfied. I have always been drawn to the new Microsoft Modern (Metro) UI, but I haven’t used Microsoft products in any meaningful way since the late 90’s. But after visiting both of these stores, I have come to question my life choices when it comes to ecosystems.

Apple Store Mall of America This isn’t my first visit to an Apple store. I have been to the Apple Store in Mall of America a couple of times in the past, but this was the first time I came away with a bad impression. Visually, the Apple store came across as shades of gray. It felt dirty and tired. Some of this is the Apple products. Everything seems monochrome. The only significant color in the store was the overwhelming army of blue shirts. They were everywhere and I and my family, came away with the feeling that they found us as customers an annoying burden and we simply were not worthy of being in their store. I use the word army to describe the blue shirts, because the feeling was militaristic. They even posted two blue shirts outside the door to stare you down and intimidate you in what can only be described as an attempt to get you to question your decision about entering the store. You can really see that Apple has become a mobile handset manufacturer and less a computing company. They had a number of tables of iPhones and iPad filling the floor of the store. Pushed to the outer edges of the store was a sampling of computers. A small limited selection of accessories separated by a counter and protected by blue shirts. The walls of the store appear to be a dingy off-white with a muted banner on either side featuring the upcoming Apple Watch. Of course they do not have any Apple Watches on display nor did the staff have any real information about them other than they can be pre-ordered starting April 10th.

The Microsoft Store was an incredible experience. Staff was pleasant, helpful, and it felt they were generally enthusiastic about the product they sold and want to help you get the most out of them. The store was vibrant, colorful, and fresh. Nothing was barricaded away from customers and I came away very impressed. What is more important is that my family came away more impressed with the products from Microsoft. This store changed my impression of Microsoft totally.

But now what? I have a trust problem when it comes to Microsoft. Today, despite a number of failures by Apple recently, I still have a good deal of trust in the products and software that they ship. That trust has been built up by over a decade of effort on their part. Apple, until recently, has had incredible attention to detail. They really think about their products before they ship. In the past, Microsoft has not had such well thought out products and even now, as I compose this on Windows 8.1, little things crop up that show they have yet to embrace the attention to detail that Apple has shown. But I feel things changing with Microsoft. New CEO, the company is refocusing and products are starting to be better integrated with a more holistic approach instead of the islands they have been. This has me very interested and I am tip toeing in cautiously. They don’t have my trust yet, but they are working on it and I think they can get it if they keep on this path. As a developer, I have had a hard time wrapping my head around their development stack and paradigms. I hope they continue and color me impressed.