Microsoft's biggest mistake is trying to go head to head with Apple at the malls. Plopped between, say, Ann Taylor and Gymboree, the new Microsoft Store would simply dazzle - it's modern, flashy and incredibly interactive. But across the corridor from Apple at Mall of America (first floor, south side), comparisons are inevitable.
Standing in the middle of the extremely loud new Microsoft store, the sixth nationwide, I felt a bit like I'd landed at a frat party where the hosts need to be noticed to feel validated. People jumping around, too noisy to connect. I looked across at Apple - the cool campus coffee house filled with intriguing people who make you want to linger and do great things. Apple was also busy, but much calmer. Geniuses in blue, some with mohawks and piercings, waited at the door and hovered over sleek white and black machines, enlightening customers.
I had trouble figuring out who worked at Microsoft. The ones in green? Blue? Red - no wait, that guy was just a shopper. There's just a lot going on. A lot. Which is a criticism, in comparison to the elegantly simple Apple. But compared instead to Best Buy, or the electronics department of Target or Wal-Mart, the new Microsoft store is a rock star. Phones are projected on super-sized wall screens. Xbox gaming stations are sprinkled throughout the store. Products are neatly grouped, making it easy to zero in on small laptops, phones, electronic readers or other devices. (For product pros and cons, read my colleague Julio Ojeda-Zapata's blog.) There's a service bar (not quite Genius, but looks helpful). For the person who wants an overview of the latest in technology, presented by knowledgeable staff, the new Microsoft store is the place to go. And should you realize, midway, that you're more the coffee bar type, Microsoft has once again made it easy to get there instead.