How I tried to get Microsoft to turn me away from MacBooks
Commentary: How is Microsoft selling its new laptop? I went to a couple of Microsoft stores to see whether they could persuade me to give up my MacBook.
I look at my MacBook Air and think it a little dowdy.
It works just fine, but there are those times when you want to believe there’s something better out there.
So when I heard that Microsoft had released, I wanted to be sold. I wanted someone to take me gently by the hand and lead me to a land of new promises, even if I had to experience them through Windows. And for that, I needed a real live human being. I’m old-fashioned that way.
I went to two local Microsoft stores, clutching my usual naivete like a glass of fine sauvignon blanc and told them my story. It happened to be the truth. I’m a lifelong MacBook user. Please tell me, I begged, please sell me on why this Surface Laptop is better. After all, Apple’s always been the one who was supposed to be a good at selling. Has Microsoft caught up?
Microsoft store no. 1: A slippery Surface
At the first Microsoft store in Marin County, California, I sat down and began to play with a burgundy-colored laptop. Very quickly, a saleswoman came up to me. I bared my inner plight. “Why is this better than my MacBook Air?” I asked. She began by telling me that it came in a lot of different colors. Which didn’t quite sway me. The next sales avenue was the touchscreen, which was certainly an improvement, but did it really matter that much?
Still, I was in a positive frame of mind. I wanted to type on it. I do a lot of typing. “Does this have Word on it?” I asked. “I don’t know,” came the reply. It turned out either that it didn’t or that the saleswoman couldn’t find it. This wasn’t going well.
“How easy is it to transfer photos and files from my MacBook?” I asked. “Oh, that can be quite complicated,” the saleswoman replied. That wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
What was odd was that this saleswoman didn’t seem sold on the laptop herself. In a very short time, she explained that I didn’t really want the Surface Laptop at all. I wanted the Surface Pro 4. This was a problem for me. I have a very bad ergonomic habit. I type on my lap, almost all the time. There’s no way I could balance a Surface Pro 4 on my lap. I tried. It didn’t go well. I left the store painfully unsold.
Microsoft store No. 2: ‘We thought about Macs when we designed it’
A week later, I wandered into another, slightly larger Microsoft store in San Francisco. My story stayed the same. The salesman’s spiel was very different.
“Why is this better than my MacBook Air?” I asked. “Have you picked it up?” he replied. I picked it up. It felt slightly heavier than my MacBook Air. But it is slightly bigger. So, yes, I was warming. Next, the salesman asked me to close it and notice that it was very sleek, without a single visible screw.
I appreciated being sold on emotional values, rather than specs. This salesman then proceeded to (try to) sell me by telling me how Microsoft had designed the Surface Laptop with a lot of Mac gestures. “We thought about Macs when we designed it,” the salesman told me.
I found this quite clever. Instead of making me feel alienated or confused — I think of Windows as an unaesthetic world — the idea here was to make me comfortable by seeing that, for example, the two-fingered gesture on the trackpad felt identical. Not once did this salesman try to fill me with facts and figures about, say, RAM.
He chose, instead, to guide me toward emotionally uplifting aspects — like the sound coming from speakers buried beneath the keyboard or the amusement of writing on the screen. Oh, and when it came to the file transfer question, he was honest that files in some Apple programs couldn’t be uploaded, but insisted that photos were simple to transfer — and showed me how.
When he saw I was still wavering, he also tried to direct me to the Surface Pro 4. Why? Because he wanted me to see how amusing it was to write on the screen and have the Surface turn my handwriting into text. My handwriting is very bad. Sometimes, I can’t read it. The Surface Pro 4 only got one word right.
I turned back to the Surface Laptop. “Do you find that you’re selling this more to Windows users or to Mac users?” I asked. “50-50,” came the reply. “Some people are just tired of Apple.”
I’m just a little tired of my Air. And I’d have bought many items from this salesman. He was clever, mentally agile, listened and had good, positive answers to my questions. He knew Macs and knew what could be good and bad about them.
But I didn’t buy the Surface Laptop. Why? Please forgive me, but to my eyes, it felt too square and thejust looked cheap. The more I used it, the cheaper it both looked and felt. (Some versions of this cost more than $2,000.)
Sometimes, one salesperson is much better than another. Sometimes, the gap between a successful sale and failed one is very narrow.
What was I supposed to do now? Go to an Apple store, I suppose.
Microsoft didn’t immediately respond to my request for comment.