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I spent most of a week in New York on a piece of business that didn't pan out. While there, I found the time to visit both the Apple Store and the Microsoft Store. It was a study in similarities and contrasts.

I spent most of a week in New York on a piece of business that didn't pan out. While there, I found the time to visit both the Apple Store and the Microsoft Store. It was a study in similarities and contrasts.

Location, Location, Location

For a long time, Microsoft had no retail presence in the state of New York. Apple, on the other hand has a veritable tourist attraction in one of the most prestigious locations on Fifth Avenue. Microsoft has a habit of trying to put a retail store as close to an Apple Store as they can. Sometimes in a mall, the Microsoft Store is right across from a well-established Apple Store.

This is not the case in New York. When you go to the Apple Store on Fifth Ave. It is the whole block with the iconic glass cube serving as an entrance and work of art. The Microsoft Store is also on Fifth. But you have to know where to look. It is a few blocks from the Apple Store mixed in with a jumble of other stores. It is easy to miss. And many do.

The Intersection of Liberal Arts and Technology

The Apple Store is Liberal Arts. The Microsoft Store is technology. That seems too cliche, even to me. But it is so true. Apple took the time to create a unique work of art with their store. Microsoft just put up a store that looks like the average mall version of the Apple Store.

The art vs. tech theme carried over to the products as well. I wanted to get a look at the new, smaller iPad Pro. The Apple Store was packed with lookers and purchasers. I had to wait to get to one of the fully functioning display units. When my turn came, I took as much time as I needed without feeling rushed.

There was no pushy sales person. I had time to explore the product. And I found it easy to grasp, not just for me, but for the others looking at the other iPads all around me. People seemed to be happy and free of stress.

The Microsoft Store offered a completely different experience:

Beneath the Surface

I walked into the Microsoft Store and slipped past a greeter. I went to the first table to spend some quality time with the new Surface Book. I'm an old hand at Windows, and didn't need any help to find my way around the product. That didn't stop a sales person from attaching himself to me.

I told him that I was a Mac user who was not really interested in purchasing anything. I just wanted to have a look at the product. In a perfect world, he would have said something polite and moved alone. This is not a perfect world.

He stuck around and wanted to chat me up. I didn't want to chat. But I didn't really have a choice. I just wanted to explore the product in peace. No dice. He wanted to have an iPad Pro vs. Surface Book debate. He saw me trying to use the Surface Book and insisted on giving a tour of sorts.

Because I don't see well, I move slowly around an unfamiliar system. He kept taking the mouse and doing things for me. He would tell me about a process, then do it, rather than letting me do it. I had to tell him to stop it. But he was in full DEMO mode, and couldn't seem to quit.

I asked him how to detach the screen. He proceeded to do it. I took the screen from him and reattached it so that I could do it myself. The screen didn't detach. I let him try. But he couldn't get it to detach again either. The glitch corrected itself eventually. And I was able to detach and reattach the screen.

I tried the pen. I remarked that Samsung had a mode that brought up writing options when you clicked the pen button. He insisted that the Surface Book did that too. So I clicked the pen. OneNote came up. But there was no writing option. He told me it was because it was the Modern version of the app.

Confused, I asked him why the handwriting version didn't pop up when you clicked the pen. He says that it does if you set it up that way. He blamed it on the demo setup. While the screen was detached, I tapped a text field. No keyboard popped up. I asked him about that. He tapped on a keyboard icon at the bottom of the screen. I asked him why it doesn't just automatically pop up like on every other touch device. Again, he blamed it on the demo setup.

That is how my time with the Surface Book went. It left me feeling like I never want to enter another Microsoft Store again. Also, at the end of the day, no matter how nice the hardware seems, it's still Windows, and all the cruft that entails.

I'm sure people will have a fine experience with the device once the bugs are worked out, and they configure everything so that it makes sense. But it was ever so frustrating to use initially. Apple's demo units are set up so that it makes sense. The technology is in the background. The Microsoft products are tech heavy, and tech first.

At an Apple Store, you get help if you want it. At the Microsoft Store, I couldn't shake the help that I didn't want. I felt like I was there to satisfy the sales person's curiosity. It was an unpleasant experience that I have no desire to repeat.

Debating the Merits

Before closing, I thought I would share with you a little bit of the debate we had. His perspective was that the iPad Pro was a limited tablet, while the Surface Book was a complete tablet and laptop experience. I let him know that in addition to doing consumption tasks on my iPad Pro, I also did my day job on the device.

That was insufficient for him. He was stuck on the Microsoft line that only a Windows machine was a "real"computer. I ask him what he thought an average person needed a Surface Book for that they couldn't do with an iPad Pro. His stock answers revealed the mindset of Microsoft.

He talked about Photoshop, 3D rendering, hard-core gaming, and extremely high-end music production. My response to him was that none of these things represented tasks done by the average person. You could give away Photoshop, and ten other professional apps to the average user, and they wouldn't even know how to get past the launch screen.

I also pointed out that the people who depend on those types of apps will be using something even bigger than a laptop. In other words, they will likely have two computers: one for work, and one for less intensive tasks. Talking to him was like meeting a tech forum member in real life.

This is not to advise others against going to a Microsoft Store and purchasing a Microsoft product. You have to do what is right for you. I am just telling you about my experience. I hope it was a one-off experience that no one else goes through. But for my part, I am done with Microsoft curiosity for a while.

David Johnson

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