Microsoft Pop-up Stores Face Off Against Apple

Last month, Microsoft announced that it would open more than 30 temporary stores for the holidays. Now we know where these stores will be, and when they’ll open. Both the timing and the locations appear quite uncanny.

We’ll start with the news on when these pop-up stores will open for business. Microsoft’s pop-up stores will open on October 26, coinciding with both the company’s release of its new operating system, Windows 8, and its Surface tablet. In fact, the software giant is holding a special event in New York the day before to launch the OS in style.

Clearly, that timing is no accident, and it doesn’t take a marketing major to see why Microsoft is doing this. Those stores will surely feed off the excitement of the release of the new OS and tablet. At least, that’s what Microsoft hopes.

But the locations of these pop-up stores are even more interesting. According to Gregg Keizer, writing for Computerworld, “Microsoft will go toe-to-toe with Apple: 29 of the 32 stores are located in the same mall or shopping center that houses an Apple retail store.” The store locations include malls in a number of US and Canadian cities, such as New York, Miami, Denver, Toronto, Nashville, Columbia, Bethesda, San Antonio, Vancouver, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Durham, and many others.

Very likely these stores will push the Surface tablet, although Microsoft has not gone on the record and publicly said so. Keizer noted that the software giant also didn’t say whether these temporary stores would offer certain services that customers can find in the company’s permanent retail locations, such as the “Answer Desk” and personal training sessions.

If these holiday stores really hope to push the Surface tablet, they would do well to offer personal training sessions. Windows 8 is enough of a paradigm shift that anyone accustomed to earlier Microsoft operating systems might have some trouble adjusting. A little guidance, especially for older users, would certainly be appreciated.

Indeed, it’s the changes coming in the new operating system that make Microsoft’s move to fight Apple on its own turf, as it were, so interesting. Windows 8, in many ways, looks and acts similar to the system on the iPad. Programs sit “live” in tiles that you can maximize with a touch, and you can opt to store your data in a personal account based in the cloud. It’s as if Microsoft is saying to consumers, “You want an iPad? Hold on, we can give you the same experience, and a whole lot more.”

But this point brings up a different question. Are consumers shopping for iPads looking for a new main computer – or something for lighter use? My totally unscientific experience indicates the latter. From what I’ve seen of Windows 8, the operating system was intended to be all things to all people; it even offers a way to work within a more traditional Windows user interface. Will someone looking for an iPad for some light use really be lured into buying a Surface tablet – presumably to replace their main computer?

It’s hard to say. The much-beloved Windows XP is still running the computers of a quite respectable percentage of Windows users; the much-maligned Windows Vista won’t reach the end of its supported lifespan until 2017. Windows 7, heralded by many as what Windows Vista was supposed to be in the first place, will continue to be supported by Microsoft until 2020. Those Microsoft holiday pop-up stores will be fighting a lot more than Apple; they’ll be fighting inertia. Good luck with that.

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