One of this week’s big stories in tech is about a man who beat the “Smoked by Windows Phone Challenge”. This stirred up quite a bit of noise in the internet tech community. From what I understand, Sahas Katta took the challenge with his Galaxy Nexus. The challenge presented to him was get the weather of two different cities. This can easily be set to show on a home screen with a widget in android and apparently Sahas galaxy nexus had just such a widget set on his nexus. He also had hacked his Galaxy Nexus to not have a lock screen thus when he turned the phone on the weather was right there waiting, No swipe needed. The Microsoft store associate then claimed the weather needed to be from two different cities in different states and denied Sahas his claim to victory. This was an isolated event as far as I can tell and Microsoft has since made good on the challenge by offering Sahas his spoils as the victor. It confuses me to see so many people take the actions of one sales associate and claim “Microsoft is up to their old tricks.” I don’t think Microsoft should be marred by the actions of one sales associate.
Now I had heard of the “Smoked by Windows Phone Challenge”, in fact I saw it in action at CES in Las Vegas. What I didn’t realize was this challenge was available to anyone who could make it to a Microsoft store. I thought this was a pop up type thing like a flash mob or a food truck. It had also never occurred to me to try the challenge because I don’t have an android phone or an iPhone and you can’t take the challenge with a windows phone. Well after I found out there is a Microsoft store about 3 hours from me I started wondering if they would accept me taking the challenge with my old AT&T Tilt 2 which runs windows mobile. After making a call to the Microsoft store and finding out any smartphone may enter I decided to take a road trip to DC and take this challenge myself. It never hurts to have a nice backup phone as I found out a couple months ago when my phone drowned overnight in a puddle of water on my nightstand.
On my way to DC I tweeted to see if any bitbag fans live in the DC area, to which I did get a reply of one of the fans I have spoken to a couple times before. I had Aaron (the bitbag fan) call me and I told him why I was making the road trip and checked to see if he wanted to meet up. I gave him the address of the Microsoft store and he called to double check my story (although I’m not sure why, do I not seem trust worthy?) after finding out I was speaking the truth he also found out the store was actually out of stock of the phones but are still taking challenges and as stock comes in they are contacting the people who took the challenge so they can come get their free new windows phones. On top of this they were also giving ten dollar gift cards to those who took a survey as consolation for not having the phones in hand.
This was my first trip to a Microsoft store; I’ve been to apple stores before (no I didn’t burn as I crossed the threshold of apple) but I was looking forward to seeing what Microsoft had done with their stores. It was interesting; the Microsoft stores are obviously modeled after the apple stores but with some definite differences. Apple stores are beautiful in a minimalist way; I really do love the design of apple stores being I consider myself a minimalist. That being said they feel a bit clinical, Microsoft has added enough to their store to make it feel more cozy but still keep that nice open environment. The walls were paneled with screens running video of different things, tablets and computers were laid out much the same way apple does, the employees were friendly and quick to help, Xbox 360’s with Kinects were available to play and games lined the wall of one corner.
I filled out some paperwork saying they can use my likeness if they so choose and then I got in line to do the challenge. There are many different challenges they do but to name a few; check the weather of two cities, get the next showing of a specific movie (The Hunger Games), take a picture to upload to Facebook and tag someone in it. These are all things that windows phone is good at doing fast and honestly things people do with smartphones on a regular basis. It’s no secret though that the employees have been trained to recognize the iPhone 4s and high end android phones to which they try to play against their weaknesses. Some have said this is a deceitful tactic and underhanded, I disagree though. To me this is common sense and it’s not like you are losing anything in this challenge with the exception of time. If you are standing in line to take a challenge you have to know the person challenging everyone in line is experienced in what he is doing. The fact is they are giving a free phone to all the people who lost including me.
At the time I took the challenge I wasn’t looking forward to making another 3 hour road trip to dc to pick up a free phone (not saying I wouldn’t.) I spoke to the manager and assistant manager who worked it out so someone else could pick it up for me and send it to me. They also told me their store had 5 people who won the challenge and got the free laptop and phone. Microsoft knew some people would win, depending on how your phone is configured, what OS it is running and what challenge is given. The fact is you can take a 3 year old phone sitting in your closet; the original iPhone, one of the original android phones, an old palm, even a decade old blackberry, and get a brand new windows phone for just a little bit of your time. You better hurry though because today (Thursday, March 29th) is the last day of the challenge.