While I personally have not tried one myself, things aren't exactly looking great for Microsoft. Here are the initial impressions I got after browsing through Twitter and reading a few articles here and there, some of which I'll talk about more below.
- Microsoft is really, really, really desperate to get people to believe that people, and not PR folks, are excited about the Surface. Hell, they got some of their own employees to queue up, they tried to control the amount of people in the lines (more on this later) and even tried to create an "exciting" environment for those people who waited in line. You know, exciting like an Apple event. The only difference? Instead of Microsoft's customers who are excited, the store employees actually seem more excited in pitching and shoving the product into people's faces.
- I have a friend in Canada who waited in line for the Surface and it clearly turns out that Microsoft carefully engineered the line outside of the store, just so that they could show people are "excited" to wait in line for it. This is pathetic. Truly. At one point, my friend even heard a Microsoft employee speaking to a PR (presumably) person over the phone, reporting how many people are in the line, waiting. I couldn't help but laugh when I heard that. To add stupid on top of stupid, Microsoft apparently tried to slow down the line by processing the orders slowly and by limiting the number of people who could enter the store at once even though the store is not even close to its full capacity.
- You wouldn't believe how many tweets I saw that went along the lines of, "if this was an Apple launch, I would be in my car with my new product instead of waiting in line now".
- Microsoft really wants to make this work - I get it. But they might've - no, actually, they did - step over the line in showing their desperateness. Most of the sales staff seemed unprepared and really, the only thing they had going for them and the only thing they have to defend themselves with is the I'm-going-to-shove-this-down-your-throat sales pitch they learned a few weeks ago. So instead of giving you the freedom of exploring the product like you would in an Apple store, the staff at Microsoft's stores are next to you every second, shoving more selling points down your throat. It's as if they were afraid if you would fine the flaws with the Surface is you were left alone with the Surface for 10 seconds. Or maybe confused and lost because of how terrible the user interface is. I don't know what kind of message they're trying to show here, other than one clear, distinct one: we're trying our very best to be Apple. Apple succeeded? We will too if we copy them!
I've read several articles on people's - mostly disappointing - impression and experience in the Microsoft store. However, two of them stood out for me: Marco Arment's "An alternate universe" and John Moltz's "Surface impressions".
Let's start off with John's:
I do really like Metro (we’re just calling it Metro, OK?) and I like the way that Microsoft has cleaned up even the traditional applications like Word and Excel for Windows 8. No ribbon. I’ve already talked about my feelings about the Metro/desktop dichotomy so I won’t rehash them. Those haven’t changed and I still feel like the Surface is a device trying to do too many things and not excelling at any of them.
Seems like something many are trying to make a point of, too. Microsoft probably knew that it's either the Surface or they're going to lose their "innovative" streak in the eyes of the customer and would be downgraded to the Blackberry-status. They're trying too hard, too much and it's not working. The folks at Microsoft obviously doesn't know how to say "no". They wanted this to be your do-it-everything device but in the end, it doesn't do anything well. At all.
Next, let's take a look at Marco's article. It's a truly great one.
The store is creepy: so many elements are embarrassingly similar to the Apple Store on the next floor. Microsoft even ripped off trivial elements that easily could have been different, such as the employee uniform. There’s a huge elephant in the room, and we can all see it, but Microsoft still implicitly denies it.
I thought this theme remained consistent - Apple did this and they were successful. We have to do it too or else we'll fail. There's no other way. I'd argue that if Microsoft was as big as Samsung in terms of marketshare and brand dominance, Apple would hit them with a lawsuit of some sort. They tried something different for the Surface, which I admired. But at the end of the day, the still succumbed to the easy way out: copy Apple.
The employees in the store were overly enthusiastic, especially for 3:47 PM, and practically mobbed anyone who entered.“HEY! WELCOME TO THE MICROSOFT STORE! WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRY THE NEW SURFACE?”
Well, if the Surface is the only thing in the store, why would people wait in line for hours just to see something else? Besides, what else is there to look at other than the Surface? The ceiling? The polished wooden floor?
This seriously can't be real. But wait, let's go on.
The distinction seems subtle, but it’s important. Every action on the Surface feels deliberate. It feels like you’re using a computer.
When Microsoft made something as distinct and different as the Surface, many people were impressed. However, they got lazy. They refused to develop a brand new operating system to go with their flagship product. In many ways, they were unwilling, since it would probably take more time and effort. So what did they do? Well, slap something they've been working on into the Surface. Screw usability, right? It's almost as stupid as when someone asks, "why can't we use Mountain Lion on the iPad"? Microsoft had a clear goal at the beginning - to enter the tablet market with a blazing fire trail. But somewhere in the middle, they got lazy. They messed up.
Most of the animations also aren’t helpful, with minimal spatial consistency. Many animations seem arbitrary, not hinting at anything behaviorally useful. Microsoft has applied animations and gestures in Windows 8 about as effectively as they applied color in Windows XP and transparency in Windows Vista: they knew that Apple had been successful with these features, so they made a checklist and just applied them haphazardly. “Apple does animations, so now we do animations! Apple does gestures, so now we have gestures!”
Doesn't this somehow remind you of what Samsung did after they released the first Galaxy S? They took the iPhone apart and basically analyzed the entire device, making a few "recommendations" on what Samsung engineers should do for the next Galaxy if they want sell it as successfully as Apple did with the iPhone. Thinking about it, Microsoft probably wanted to go Samsung - ripping people's idea off and calling it their own, hoping that no one would notice while they profit.
In an ideal world, that would happen and they'd be rich which people still happily flock into their stores to buy their products. In an ideal world, Microsoft would be able to take numerous design cues from the Apple store and no one would notice. People would appreciate it's beauty and enjoy the experience. In an idea world, Microsoft would be able to price their tablets for any amount they want even though other manufacturers are continuously lowering their prices.
But this isn't an ideal world.
This is a world where there is Apple.
Shape up, Microsoft.
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