I expect Microsoft had their fingers crossed this Christmas hoping many UK consumers upgraded their home computers to Windows 8 during the holiday period. Better still, there was a good chance many people might use the Windows 8 launch as a good reason to buy themselves a new laptop with a touchscreen form factor so they can receive the full Windows 8 touch / keyboard experience.
The Windows 8 tiled user interface is fresh, innovative and eye catching, and Microsoft has designed a strong product to act as a bridge between the PC based computing experience of yesterday with the mobile tablet computing experience of today and tomorrow.
Since Windows 8 is such a different experience from past Windows releases, there is a significant customer education process required to help people make the journey from the PC centric experience of Windows circa Windows XP to Windows 7, to Windows 8’s blurred pc / tablet experience.
However, Microsoft runs a risk their distribution partners are not appropriately qualified or incentivised to deliver this critical product education to potential new customers.
As an example, I spent the last Monday before Christmas working on a client brief involving mystery shopping of mobile phones shops at London's Westfield Stratford complex.
Westfield Stratford has a large Currys / PC World (a major UK consumer electronics and personal computing store), and I was keen to make a trip inside to see how Windows 8 and the new touchscreen Windows 8 laptops were being promoted to London’s Christmas shoppers
Here’s my experience.
Firstly, I was attracted to a large window display containing an embedded touch screen display. Passing shoppers were invited to come over and experience the Windows 8 touchscreen experience right there on the shop window.
It’s a really good idea, as it allows people who wouldn’t normally go into Currys / PC Word to be exposed to the attractive tile display of Windows 8, and acts as a signal that there is new event occurring with personal computing.
However the display wasn’t working. Anyone trying to interact with the display would get no response.
For some people, that would be their first (and perhaps only) experience with Windows 8. It’s not a good start.
Once in store, there were around 15 laptops set up running Windows 8. All potential Windows 8 form factors were displayed - basic laptops with no touchcreen, laptops with touchscreens, thin Ultrabooks with touchscreens, and laptops with convertible displays like the Lenovo Yoga that can be operated as a traditional laptop or a tablet.
The laptops were operational so customers could interact with them to get a first hand experience of Windows 8.
The intended message of the Windows 8 display area was sound, i.e. Windows 8 works on a range of laptops and form factors, so there will be a Windows 8 laptop solution to meet customers’ different budgets and functionality needs.
The actual message however, was terrible. Out of the 15 odd Windows 8 laptops on offer, I counted four laptops that had blue Windows 8 error messages filling their screens.
Sony’s flagship £1000+ Vaio Duo 11 was presented with a missing function key on the keyboard. As well as a blue Windows 8 error message.
This is how the Windows 8 experience was presented to London Christmas shoppers. Blue screen error generating software running on broken laptops.
To compound Microsoft’s problems, the store also had an Apple instore concession area, running Macbook Airs, Macbook Pros with Retina displays and iPads. Here’s what that area of the store looked like.
The Apple concession was a miniature version on an Apple store, right down to the tables used to present the devices. All devices were pristine and functioning correctly.
The contrast between the standard of finish used to display Windows 8 laptops versus Mac laptops was stark.
The clear message to customers seemed to be that store staff either didn’t know how to resolve the Windows 8 error messages, or that they couldn’t be bothered to present the Windows 8 display unit in its best light.
The message from the Apple unit was the reverse - either the product wasn’t prone to error messages or staff were very keen to ensure the display unit was correctly presented.
A lot of talented people in Microsoft worked hard to bring Windows 8 to market. Windows 8 doesn’t deserve to have its chance to succeed sabotaged by retail partners who don’t seem to respect the product.
Microsoft needs to be much stricter in controlling how their brand experience is presented by retail partners, especially if they are presenting instore next to Apple.
Otherwise Microsoft shouldn’t be surprised if they discover UK consumers chose a more presentable device to be their personal computing companion this past Christmas.