Are we seeing a trend of Microsoft setting up shop next to Apple Stores?
If so, it's not a bad trend. Even a necessary one to check the Apple consumer Juggernaut.
At the Westfield Century City mall in Los Angeles, the Apple and Microsoft stores are close enough that when you leave one you'll almost immediately see the other.
That's helpful for consumers interested in exploring both rival camps. The Apple Store is a known quantity. The Microsoft Store isn't, for many people. That's too bad, because a Microsoft store offers a much better snapshot of cutting-edge Windows computers and devices than, let's say, Best Buy (which, by the way, just announced that it's closing 50 stores).
For example, the Century City Microsoft Store devotes most of its display-table space to the latest ultrabooks, including the HP Folio 13, the glass-encased HP Envy 14 Spectre, and Asus Zenbooks, among others.
The store also has a whole table dedicated to tablets (or "slates" as Microsoft insists on calling them). And the sales people, when they saw me eying the slates, quickly produced an Intel-based Samsung tablet running the latest iteration of the Windows 8 consumer preview.
This kind of savvy sales approach is important. One, because you would rarely if ever see this behavior at Best Buy. And, two, because Windows 8 consumer preview running on the Samsung tablet was buttery smooth. I would even venture to say that it was a smoother experience than the iPad; certainly smoother than my Android tablet running version 3.2.2.
And it made me rethink the potential of a Windows 8-based tablet. That's what Microsoft needs to get consumers to do if it wants to win over more of them.
Keep the Microsoft Stores coming. Yeah, they look and feel like Apple Stores, but that's not a bad thing.