The other day I took a trip to the Microsoft store. Actually, I took a trip to a downtown mall and noticed that there was a Microsoft store there, so I stopped by. I haven’t been inside a Microsoft store for several years so my predisposed bias was pretty naive, and as an (mostly) Apple user I wasn’t expecting much. I keep an eye on the news, I’ve read up on the new Surface Laptop and the new Surface Pro, both neat looking devices. I remember perusing a few write-ups on the Surface Studio when it came out last year. I even owned a Surface 3 for a while. In my mind Microsoft is doing some cool things, especially in the hardware realm. But these observations did not produce an expectation for what I experienced in the Microsoft store the other day.
First, the store looks amazing. Microsoft has emulated Apple to a degree in their presentation: the store is minimal, nice tables, beautiful devices, employees with the same shirts. The difference is that Microsoft has more product to show off, including devices from other manufacturers, so they don’t show a seemingly endless line of duplicate devices.
Second, Surface devices are incredible. Upon walking into the store, I was immediately met by a lineup of the ‘big four’: Surface Laptop, Surface Pro, Surface Book, Surface Studio. They’ve all got a similar aesthetic, the ‘death star’ matt gray finish, angled lines, and premium materials. They look, in a word, formidable. The hardware is beautiful while at the same time awesome. The screens are so crisp and vibrant and interactive that they look alive. The moving Windows 10 tiles, the multi-touch capability, the pen, the dial, it’s all so inspiring! As I moved from one Surface device to the next my surety in the superiority of Apple’s vision of computing began to wane. And not because of a disappointing lineup from Apple as many have lamented (MacBook Pro anyone?), but because of a more exciting vision of the future. The simple truth is that Microsoft is innovating, and Apple, seemingly, is stalling.
Last, there was a palpable vibe of excitement in that Microsoft store the other day. It was just a normal Thursday night but I could feel the buzz. From the screens that look alive, to the giant TV attached to an Xbox, to the background pump up music, it felt like this place was winning.
I admit the whole experience shook me. I felt an excitement for a non-Apple product for the first time in a long time. It all left me feeling a little bit disloyal so I dragged my friends across the mall to make a stop at the Apple store in an attempt to hemorrhage the excitement. It didn’t work. The Apple Store looked the same as every other Apple Store and I was bored in about 20 seconds.
Now, I have no plans to ditch my Apple products or even to buy a Surface device (yet), but I’d be a liar if I told you I didn’t go home and Google rumors for an upcoming Surface Phone. The phone is the next big hurdle for Microsoft. Without offering an iPhone competitor it’s going to be a tough sell, especially for those of us who treasure the unity between our phones and computing devices. But I’ll tell you, the rumors for the Surface phone, while young, look promising.
Are we all going to be using Surface Phones and Surface Pros in two years? I can’t say, but Microsoft’s vision of the future on display at that Microsoft Store was compelling to say the least.