HEAD TO HEAD BATTLE: Microsoft Store Vs. Apple Store — Which Is Better?

Apple vs. Microsoft Store

Photo: Matt Rosoff Business Insider

Last week, Microsoft opened its 14th store in the Westfield Valley Fair mall in Santa Clara, California.It’s Microsoft’s first store in Silicon Valley, a mere six miles from Apple headquarters. It’s also directly across the hall from an Apple Store.

This presented a unique opportunity to see how the two stores compared. On Sunday my family visited both of them back to back, and made a purchase in each one.

To keep it honest, we didn’t tell them who we were or what we were doing.

Here’s what we found out….

First, we had to find out where we were going.

It looks like the Microsoft Store listing used to say something else.

Wow, they really are right across the hall. Apple is #28. Microsoft is #14.

Here we are. The Microsoft store is on the left. Apple on the right. LET THE BATTLE BEGIN.

ROUND ONE: FRIENDLINESS. At the Microsoft Store, we were greeted at the door by Carlos. He happily let us take his photo.

This staffer let us know about all the deals going on because of the grand opening.

When we checked out, these ladies were happy to answer questions and pose for photos with a smile.

The Apple Store was a stark contrast. Nobody greeted us.

Nobody offered to help. To be fair, it was a lot more crowded than the Microsoft Store. And later, when we finally made a purchase, the staff was friendly enough.

But this security guard gave us a hard time and asked me to stop taking pictures. I switched to my iPhone and kept shooting.

Apple: give this security guard a raise! He did his job. And made us feel like criminals in the process, which is pretty funny considering how much money we've dropped at Apple Stores over the last five years.

ROUND ONE -- FRIENDLINESS -- TO MICROSOFT. The Microsoft Store was a million times friendlier. 1-0, Microsoft.

ROUND TWO: FUN. Shopping has to be fun, otherwise you might as well stay home and shop online. Microsoft's Kinect setup was a huge hit with all the kids.

There were also a bunch of Xboxes to play.

Including this one customised with the San Francisco 49ers logo.

The Apple Store? You might get a few minutes of video games on one of the iPads.

ROUND TWO -- FUN -- TO MICROSOFT. The Microsoft Store had way more fun distractions than the Apple Store. 2-0, Microsoft.

ROUND THREE: HELPFULNESS. So what if we actually had a problem we needed to get fixed?

Microsoft has an equivalent of the Genius Bar. They will try to help you out with almost any PC, even old ones that you didn't buy there.

We were pretty impressed that the Microsoft support team was helping this customer with his Macs.

A Microsoft staffer who'd worked in the San Diego store said they saw quite a few Mac customers who needed help with Boot Camp or Office. They're happy to help them.

But it's hard to knock the original Genius Bar. It's crowded, and they can't always fix the problem. But we've never had anything but a stellar experience there.

Apple also has a Personal Projects table where they'll just help you figure out how to do or make something. Notice that this lady's using a Windows PC.

ROUND THREE -- HELPFULNESS -- TIE. We're giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt here, but both stores offered assistance, even to the enemy. 3-1, Microsoft.

ROUND FOUR: PRODUCTS. The Microsoft store had a nice bunch of computers, including big laptops...

This convertible tablet-looking thing...

High powered gaming computers....

And curiosities like this touch screen monitor.

You can also get business products...

Like printers.

Or a copy of Office.

Even a Windows upgrade if you're so inclined.

For fun, you can pick up an Xbox, Kinect, and a bunch of games.

But what about a phone?

They're advertising Windows Phone on every available surface.

And here's a whole section devoted to it.

But when you walk over, this is it. Four models. Pretty pathetic. I guess we'll have to wait until Nokia's Windows Phones start to hit the U.S. next year.

And don't even bother if you're looking for a music player. We didn't see a Zune anywhere in the store, although it may have been really, really well hidden.

The Apple Store doesn't have the selection of computers, but the ones it does have are gorgeous. The MacBook Air looks great in the store.

So does this table full of MacBook Pros.

Everything matches. Burnished aluminium, black, white. The computers in the Microsoft Store looked like a mishmash in comparison.

They've also got the hottest phone in the world, although this store was sold out most models of the 4S. (They told us to come back early tomorrow. They get new shipments every morning.)

We could've picked up a regular iPhone 4 if we wanted.

And in case you needed to be reminded how popular the iPhone is, here's a sign a few feet down the hall advertising an app that shows you how to get around the mall.

The new iPods are amazing too — this was the first time we'd seen them. They're really thin.

Oh yeah, and the iPad as well.

And in case you forgot, there are iPads all over the place.

Most of them were occupied. We had to race to get our hands on one when it became free.

Only the boxed software was a little stale. But who buys software in boxes anymore?

ROUND FOUR -- PRODUCTS -- TO APPLE. Not even close. Great computers, the world's most popular phone, and the only tablet that matters. The score is now 3-2, Microsoft.

ROUND FIVE: EASE OF PURCHASE. To buy our copy of Office 2010 at the Microsoft Store, we had to walk up to a checkstand and wait for the cashier to use this pretty traditional point-of-sale system. It took about a minute.

The Apple Store doesn't have a single place to buy things. That usually works great — almost any employee can help you. Today, though, it was so crowded that we had to wait in a kind of random mob to get helped.

Here's what we bought.

The line cleared almost immediately. It took a few seconds to scan us in and check us out. Amazingly efficient.

ROUND FIVE -- EASE OF PURCHASE -- TO APPLE. They've had 10 years to perfect the checkout process, and it shows. THE SCORE IS TIED, 3-3.

ROUND SIX: CONVENIENCE. We drove about an hour to get to this Microsoft Store. But only because we had another event nearby in San Jose anyway.

But there's no way we'd ever go to the Apple Store across the way....

Because there's this one in another mall five minutes from our house.

ROUND SIX -- CONVENIENCE -- TO APPLE: 300+ stores versus 14. Microsoft is planning on opening 75 in the next three years, but it still won't be close.

FINAL SCORE: 4-3, Apple. APPLE IS THE WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION.

There's a reason the Apple Store is so crowded. You can't beat great products, sold with great efficiency.

But we came away impressed with Microsoft's efforts. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the experience is a lot of fun. If Microsoft can just get a few more killer products on the shelves, and open a bunch more stores, it has a chance.

Now, see why the iPhone deserves its popularity....

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