Way back in February we heard the news that Microsoft was planning to open a series of retail stores. At that time, I speculated on who their competition would be and what the store would feel like. Now we have a few answers.
First of all, the stores are planned to begin opening this fall. Good timing, considering they'll have lots to show us: the new Zune HD, Windows 7, and the Xbox 360 lineup for the holiday season. Second, it sounds like their competition is definitely Apple. At it's Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft's Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner told attendees, "And stay tuned, because we're going to have some retail stores opened up that are opened up right next door to Apple stores this fall." [Source: CNET] ZDNet's Mary-Jo Foley adds that according to her sources, the stores "be more showcases than actual retail outlets." and that Microsoft plans to share all it learns with its retail partners.
At the same time, a retail store is a retail store, and I can't imagine Best Buy or Wal-Mart being any more thrilled at sharing mall-space with a Microsoft store than with an Apple store, unless employees are charged with urging potential customers to save $50 by heading over to the local big box store. Turner is said to have told attendees that Microsoft didn't plan to imitate Apple, but that could mean anything. Back in February I found a Microsoft store hard to imagine, but I'm coming around to this vision of a place where potential buyers can learn about Windows 7, learn how to transfer content to and from their Zune, learn what the best Xbox game for their 13 year old nephew is, and so forth. But that vision feels like an Apple Store. Maybe Microsoft means it won't imitate in terms of ambiance. Compare Microsoft's TV ads to Apple's. Microsoft is all open arms and 'come on in and sit a spell' while Apple pushes its 'We're so totally hip' vibe. Maybe a Microsoft store will be a place where you can safely say "I can't get my Zune to sync" without having to endure the contemptuous sneer of an 18 year old 'genius.' I'd be OK with that.
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