Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Brick and mortar stores -- Apple, Microsoft and Google?

Dell, HP and others now have relatively upscale Chromebooks that approach, and in some features surpass, the high end Google Pixel and Google just announced that Chromebooks will be running Android apps in the future. At first, those apps might not be optimized for the Chromebook form factor, but many will look good in phone or tablet-size windows and I bet we see Chromebook-friendly Android apps in the future.

Given all that, I thought I might like to get one, so I headed over to the closest thing I know of to a Google store -- the Google section of my local Best Buy.

It's a total Fail.

As shown here, all they had was half a dozen low-end machines. That might work for a Chromebook for a school child, but it is not sufficient for someone thinking of spending $700 or more.

But, it gets worse.

There were two, sweet, young sales people wearing Google shirts next to the Chromebooks, so I asked if they had other machines -- perhaps a Pixel -- somewhere else in the store. It turned out they didn't know what I meant by "Google Pixel." I explained what a Google Pixel was and one of them went off to inquire. When she came back, she said they did not have them.

Since I was there, I asked about the six machines they had on display and discovered that they were confused about the difference between memory and storage. None of the machines on display had more than 2GB of memory, but they assured me that that was no problem because you could attach a large external hard drive.

(In the early days of personal computers, there was a joke that the difference between computer store sales people and car sales people was that the car sales folks knew they were lying).

I don't know if these kids were Google or BestBuy employees, but they were wearing Google shirts and that surely cheapens the top-notch "Googler" brand.

If Google hopes to sell and support high-end hardware, they will have to do much better than this, and that will be expensive.

A little while ago, I had been in a shopping mall near my home and dropped in on the Apple and Microsoft stores, which are just a few stores apart.

It was the middle of the week, but the Apple store was quite crowded. Customers were talking with sales people, playing around with machines, getting help from Apple "geniuses," etc. Apple runs classes in the stores, offers walk-in customer support and the employees are knowledgeable and helpful. I snapped this picture just before the man in the foreground told me to stop taking pictures:

I walked over to the Microsoft store and found it to be pretty well empty -- the store employees outnumbered the customers. They had a wide range of computers on display -- from both Microsoft and OEMs. They also offered service and classes and the workers were as knowledgeable and friendly as those in the Apple store. There was no pressure and no problem playing around for as long as I wanted to and they were happy to have me take pictures.

I had visited the same Microsoft and Apple stores two days after Christmas in 2014 and, while both were more crowded post Christmas, the Apple store was totally jam packed and the Microsoft store still fairly empty.

I personally don't see much difference between the Microsoft and Apple stores and can't figure out why one is so much more popular than the other, but, I can tell you for sure that Google will have to be creative and spend a lot of money if they want to sell us high end hardware. They will also have to step up customer support. You can sell a $35 Chromecast in a BestBuy store or online, but not a $1,300 Pixel Chromebook.

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