Twice now I have visited a Microsoft Store, once on the east coast (Washington, D.C.) and on the west coast (San Francisco, downtown). There was some time between these visits; one was just after Windows 8 had been released, and the second was after the introduction of the Surface Pro and Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia.
First, the store is bright and cheerful and you didn't wait long until someone came up to help you. It was, minus the criticism I will volley below, not a bad store experience. I can imagine that if I was in the market for a Microsoft-branded piece of technology, this would be a great place to buy it.
That said, I felt so much of what was on display was veneer. The colors, bright lights, shiny gadgetry, and even the blue t-shirt-clad employees gave, at least on the surface, a very similar aesthetic experience from what I might get from visiting their competitor, Apple.
I took some time to dig more deeply into the products. I examined the Nokia phones and talked to a sales lady about it. She owned and used one herself. I looked at the Surface Pro and used the pen to draw and write. But in both instances I found the resulting interfaces to have a level of complexity that I knew it would take more time to figure out. I don't know what it feels like for a person new to Apple to do the same — I know I can walk up to a Mac or an iOS device and I'm "at home." The same is not true with Microsoft Windows 8 Metro. However, to be fair, I do own a Surface and so it wasn't totally new to me.
In the end, so many elements were on the phone and tablet that I trusted that maybe it would all work out after taking one home. But the layers to the UI and UX prevented me from getting that in the store. Instead, on the surface, I saw all the things that might catch my eye. I never left with a satisfying user experience, however, beyond the veneer.
And that, I feel, is the Microsoft approach to competing with Apple. Veneer is so easy to do, and it is what so many have said Apple has been about for over 10 years. "It's a crapintosh with a pretty veneer." Apple users knew that was a false claim, knowing that beyond the veneer, the real art was in how the Apple had been designed to work well, and that the "veneer" really wasn't one at all, but part of the Gestalt experience.
I cannot help but think shame for those at Microsoft (and now this new Chinese company Mi and Samsung) for trying to copy the Apple aesthetic through veneer. With so much talent at all these companies, the innovations they may have put into practice are lost beyond the colorful coating of plastic and the copy-cat t-shirts and store designs that scream "We're cool like Apple, too."
Everyone knows copy cats are not cool. You end up looking second-rate.