I am definitely a geek, so naturally when I heard Microsoft opened their first retail store today in my hometown, I made plans to head there as soon as I could. Overall, I was actually impressed with what I saw.
First off, although I am sure the MS guys wince every-time someone compares this store to an Apple store, it is a natural thing to do. I found a lot of similarities. The store layout was almost identical, with tables displaying products, employees in different colored t-shirts, an "Answer Bar" in the back, and sleek/modern design. To be clear, on first impressions, this really felt a lot like an Apple Store.
But digging a little deeper, there were some really cool things. The first cool thing about the store, is there was a ribbon of video screens completely surrounding the top of the store. When I was there, some were being used to play XBox, some were displaying static info about products, and some had general news info. In videos I have seen (like the engadget one: http://www.engadget.com/2009/10/22/microsoft-store-opens-to-scottsdale-campers-video/ ) you can really see how they leverage these screens to change the atmosphere of the store.
Otherwise, as expected, they had a bunch of "Surface" machines setup. They were wide open (ie. there wasn't a employee monitoring them or anything), so people could pretty much play with them freely. I didn't have a chance to play with them today, but this was the first time I have seen one in person, and it was really cool. I look forward to getting back there (when it is less busy, and a little easier to get my hands on the demos). They also had a lot of Zune's setup throughout the store (this is the first time I got my hands on one, and I was impressed, it is a nice little device).
Something really cool, that wasn't getting much attention (but should have) was the giant touch screen in the back of the store. It was being used to display a map, and I am pretty sure it wasn't open for public use. It was multitouch ( I definitely witnessed someone pinching to zoom). Bottom line, this was a huge screen, and adding touch technology to it, was something I haven't seen before (and something pretty rare). I am sure there is a lot they can do with this, once they get settled in.
Otherwise, the product selection was interesting. If I was in the market for a new computer, I would most definitely make this a stop in my shopping tour. They had computers from Dell, Sony, and HP (maybe more, those are the ones I saw for sure). They had all the latest models (probably due to the fact that the store just opened).
They were promoting the store by offering free tickets to a concert by "Ashley Tisdale" (from High School Musical I guess). The tickets were limited to the first 1000 people in the store. I was there 3 hours after opening (and there were a ton of people at the store), and there were still tickets available. I am thinking that a lot of people didn't take the tickets (I certainly didn't - I did get a free Bing t-shirt though). My guess is MS missed the boat, and didn't quite figure out their target market.
Bottom line, I was actually impressed with this store. It represents the Microsoft product line really well, and is a well stocked "Adult Tech Toy Store". I look forward to going back soon, when there are fewer crowds, and playing around more.