Apple Store vs. Microsoft Store - My Boston Experience

Apple Store vs. Microsoft Store - My Boston Experience

The Apple Store offers a unique customer experience, and anyone who has been into one will agree its among the best you will probably come across. The store employees are courteous and helpful, making you feel at home and welcome. During my recent visit to Boston I visited their local Apple Store and found a Microsoft Store was just across the road. So I decided that I should compare the experiences in an Apple and Microsoft Store and try figure out how they stack up against each other.

The Apple Store Experience - I recently travelled to Boston for a few days and thought I would fix my first gen Macbook Air while I was there as the Apple Store was a walking distance from where I was staying. I needed to replace my Macbook Air battery, which had depleted over the years, and since the process takes a few days, I felt it was easier to take care of it when the Apple Store was close by.

The closest Boston Apple Store is located on Boylston Street, and its a three story building made mostly of glass. The Genius bar, which generally takes care of your technical issues, is located on the third floor and you have to climb up some winding glass stairs to get to it.

Now the only Apple Store I have been too in the U.S. is in Towson, Maryland and the employees look (or pretend to look) busy all the time. While the Boylston Street Store also looks quite busy, I was happy to be welcomed and sent on my way up the stairs to the Genius bar.

For those who don't know, or are new to the Apple world, its always good to make an appointment before you head to a store as the Genius bar is generally busy. While I had made an appointment, I was early so I was offered the chance to sit around and browse the internet on one of their cool iMacs which were on display.

While I was waiting, I also decided to browse around the other Apple devices like the new iPhone 5 and the iPad mini and found the store employees extremely pleasant and always helpful.

When it was time for my appointment I was directed to the Genius bar and after a quick test my device was sent for repairs. Apple needed two days to replace the battery (though they finished in one) which I didn't mind, but I had one issue with their near perfect service.
I went to the store to repair my Macbook Air, but I also had an iPod nano. Unfortunately when you make your appointment at the Genius bar, you can only make it for one item at a time. I dont think its efficient for one customer to make two appointments and I hope Apple addresses this.
However my overall experience with the Apple Store was great, I enjoyed my time there and was glad that I got a proper hands on experience with the devices. I don't quite understand why carriers offer dummy phones for users to get a hands on with the device, because unlike phones of yesteryear, the software experience is extremely important to someone looking to purchase a new smartphone.

The Microsoft Store Experience - The Microsoft Store is just across the street from the Apple Store, though its nestled inside the Prudential Center on Boylston Street. It offers a complete Microsoft experience centered around Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 and has most of the latest devices on display. Unlike the Apple Store which has an 'all blue t-shirt wearing employees' experience, the Microsoft Store employees are dressed in the colors of Windows - Red (looks more like orange), Blue, Green and Yellow.

My first order of business at the Microsoft Store was to get my hands on a Microsoft Surface RT and a Microsoft Surface Pro. Since there are no stores near Baltimore City which offer this experience, I am disappointed to say this was going to be my first experience with a Surface.

Now if any of you have been looking at early reviews of the Surface, you would have been quite disappointed, and considered purchasing an Android device or an iPad instead. But my first experience with the Surface was so great, that I was literally blown away. Microsoft has improved the software experience on the tablet and its smooth and fun to use.
However Microsoft has displayed both the RT and the Pro as 'Surface' giving no clear definition on why the devices are priced so differently. 
For those who dont know the Surface RT which is powered by an ARM processor (a low power processor found on the iPad) which is meant for simple tasks like browsing the web, checking email and playing simple games. The Surface RT can only run apps you download from the Windows app Store. Meanwhile the Surface Pro is a true workhorse and a capable ultrabook/notebook replacement. It has the same processor and memory you found in most modern laptops while offering great portability. The Surface Pro is capable of running apps from the Windows Store and just about any app you would use on your regular laptop or desktop.

Lucky for me I write a tech blog and I know my way around these devices, but you would expect the Microsoft Store employees would be up and around the store talking to the customers and trying to sell their products.
Unfortunately I didn't see any Microsoft employee around I had to walk around looking for one to find out anything you need to know.
Now I was here to get my hands on a Nokia Lumia 521, which I think is one of the best entry level smartphones in the market at this moment. It is a variant of the Lumia 520 and is available in the U.S. exclusively through T-Mobile. What's great about this device is that it costs only $150 off contract for which you get a 4.0 inch touch display, 8GB of internal storage which can be expanded through microSD, a 5 megapixel camera capable of 720p HD video capture and a 1GHz dual-core processor with 512MB of RAM. While these may not match the newest premium smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the HTC One, keep in mind that Windows Phones perform much better than Android devices and dont require those high end specs to give you an amazing experience.

However I found out that the Microsoft Store was willing to match the price of the Lumia 521 with any price offered by other retailers. And since Walmart has the device for $128.98, you can get the handset from the Microsoft Store for the same price compared to the $150 it costs at T-Mobile. Additionally the Microsoft Store is supposed to offer a $25 gift card to anyone who takes a Bing it on Challenge at their store (Unfortunately the promotion was over) which could be used toward any purchase. This would have brought the price of the Lumia 521 to just $104 which is less than what you pay for devices on contract.

[UPDATE] So it turned out that I would end up purchasing the Nokia Lumia 521 from the Microsoft Store. The device is affordable and powerful and I felt its services like offline navigation and Wi-Fi calling were amazing added value, which is not offered on my (premium) Google Nexus 4. I headed to the Microsoft Store at 9PM in the night, and though the store employees were getting ready to close I was warmly welcomed. The Lumia 521 was in stock and it comes in a (somewhat large) T-Mobile package. I was told by the store employee that the device was fully unlocked and that I could use it on any GSM network around the world. No activation required (something I am always happy to hear). Microsoft matched the Walmart price and I walked away with the Lumia 521 for just $138 (taxes included) which is still an amazing price when you consider the specs. I will have an unboxing and full review of the Lumia 521 in the coming weeks, so do stay tuned.

Keep in mind that the Microsoft Store offers a much wider experience than the Apple Store as you get products from various manufacturers in various form factors ranging from computers, laptops, tablets, phones and even the Xbox, but you have no one around who is willing to help you with your shopping experience.

Conclusion - During my short stay in Boston, MA. I visited both the Microsoft and Apple Stores in an attempt to compare the two experiences. The Apple Store offers a warm welcoming vibe, which can sometimes feel intrusive if you are simply there to experience a new product. The Microsoft Store on the other hand offers their customers the freedom to browse around and get their hands on experience, only providing assistance if called upon. This may not ideal for everyone, but I personally preferred it.

Apple is known for their customer satisfaction through their products and matched by their staff at the Apple Stores. Apple products are classy and feel good to use, but costly and you will almost never see a discounted item in their store. However its very unlikely you will leave an Apple Store feeling disappointed with your purchase.

Meanwhile Microsoft is new to the consumer market, in the sense that they are best (or better) known for their enterprise products. Items like Windows Phones and the new Windows 8 experience are fun to use. Microsoft needs to offer their potential customers excitement about their products and their staff needs to be trained to identify someone who is new to Windows 8 or Windows Phone and be ready to step in to help. Microsoft offers variety and affordability along with various promotions through their stores. If they make the effort to widen this offering they will be a much stronger force against Apple's continuous dominance in the mobile consumer world.

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