Microsoft apologizes after botched Windows Phone challenge

Microsoft is apologizing after refusing to reward a tech writer who "smoked" a Windows Phone using an Android handset.

Microsoft is apologizing for a Windows Phone marketing campaign gone wrong, after a tech writer "smoked" a Windows Phone using an Android handset.

In its retail stores, Microsoft has been running a "Smoked by Windows Phone" campaign, in which participants are challenged to use their existing smartphones to try to beat Windows Phone in basic tasks. For example, users are asked to send text messages to their spouses, look up the weather, or find highly-rated local restaurants.

In most stores, Microsoft was offering $100 to users who could beat Windows Phone. But Microsoft upped the stakes at its Santa Clara location by offering a special edition laptop valued at over $1,000. That's where Skatter Tech's Sahas Katta decided to take up Microsoft's challenge.

Katta's task was to bring up the weather in two different cities. Fortunately, Katta's Samsung Galaxy Nexus already had a pair of weather widgets on the home screen, one for San Jose, Calif., and another for Berkeley, Calif. He had also set the phone to bypass the lock screen when pressing the power button--a built-in option for Android phones running version 2.3 and higher.

When the challenge began, all Katta had to do was tap the power button. Although a store associate with a Windows Phone was close behind, with two weather Live Tiles on the start screen, the Galaxy Nexus' instant unlock gave Katta the edge.

The Microsoft Store staff didn't see it this way, and claimed that Katta had actually lost. After several employees failed to explain why, another employee stepped in and claimed that Katta's phone didn't win because its two weather locations were in the same state.

"I calmly and politely tried pointing out that I was absolutely never told about having to show off two different states, but at this point I realized there was no point in even attempting to argue since the Microsoft Store employees clearly had no intention of even potentially discussing the possibility of considering me the winner," Katta wrote.

The story attracted lots of attention in the tech world, getting picked up on the news aggregation site Techmeme. On Monday, Microsoft's Senior Manager (and self-proclaimed Microsoft Evangelist) Ben Rudolph wrote on Twitter that he wanted to make things right, and promised Katta a laptop, a phone, and an apology.

The Verge also wrote a follow-up story showing how Microsoft instructed store employees to avoid certain challenges against specific phones. For instance, HTC's Status has a "pocket-to-picture-to-post feature and a camera that switches on even faster than Windows Phone," according to a store guide, so employees were instructed not to challenge Status users to take a picture and upload it to Facebook.

It should be no surprise that Microsoft was stacking the odds in its favor. "Smoked by Windows Phone" is a marketing campaign, not an honest assessment of one platform's advantages against the competition. But as long as Microsoft was coaching store employees on how not to get beaten, it could have also taught them how to gracefully accept defeat.

Then again, one store's snafu arguably led to more exposure for the campaign than it ever would have received otherwise.

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This story, "Microsoft apologizes after botched Windows Phone challenge" was originally published by PCWorld.

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