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Smoked by their own marketing

Posted: , posted by Scott H.

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Smoked by their own marketing
Smoked by Windows started life as a clever series of challenges at CES this year. The demo guy, wielding a practiced hand on his WP7 device, was betting a hundred dollars that volunteers couldn't match his phone at common tasks. He lost a few times, but he won the majority of the time and Windows Phone came out looking aggressive, hip, and most of all fast. Microsoft generate a lot of free publicity at the even (minus a couple hundred dollar bills), so it wasn't surprising when the event morphed into an advertising campaign. Then, to crown it all off, Microsoft decided unveiled in-store challenges that placed a $1,000 laptop on the line.

And that's where Microsoft may have tried too hard. We understand that with stakes of this magnitude Microsoft doesn't want to lose, so we expect them to stack the deck in their favor. Still, as long as they were showing off the some of the world-beating features of Windows Phone, who could blame them? Alas, new information has come forth that casts the in-store version of the challenge in a less favorable light.

Earlier today we reported on a small brouhaha that arose when Sahas Kattaa beat the “Smoked by Windows” challenge with his Galaxy Nexus. An employee at his local Microsoft store challenged Katta to see who could more quickly display the temperature in two different cities. Mr. Katta had two weather widgets already configured to do so, and had further turned off the lock-screen, allowing him to win the challenge with the push of his power button. The store employees, apparently caught off guard, claimed his victory “didn’t count” because the two temperatures had to come from different states, even though that wasn't a previously stated part of the challenge.

Smoked by their own marketing
As you'd expect in this day and age, the interwebs erupted with people calling Microsoft out, and someone with a higher pay grade soon made the executive decision that looking like a poor sport was worse than admitting the loss and providing Katta with his $1,000 laptop. We commend Microsoft for stepping up and doing the right thing here, but we wonder why this issue wasn't anticipated - surely they knew that such a loss would happen eventually?

It turns out that Microsoft may not have been prepared to lose; they had constructed the challenge in such a way that employees with the proper training could avoid losing altogether. They circulated a training guide with detailed instructions on how to conduct the challenges - a guide that fell into the hands of writers at The Verge.

Given the steep price and high embarrassment of a loss, it’s not really surprising that Microsoft would have guidelines on how to conduct the Smoked by Windows challenge. What may surprise you, however, is how bluntly the guide admits that Windows can be smoked by other phones, and how it teaches their employees to "select a challenge appropriate to your customer" so they won’t lose.

The weather challenge, for example, is not recommended for use against Android devices. The guide warns explicitly that “Android users have access to Widgets that can, if properly configured, display the weather and other information in real time.” Apparently they should have spent more time on that aspect of the training. Owners of Apple’s iPhone, on the other hand, do not have access to homepage widgets and as such are perfect candidates for the weather challenge.

Smoked by their own marketing

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