Over the weekend, a mini-controversy broke out when a Microsoft Store in Silicon Valley refused to declare blogger Sahas Katta’s Android phone as the victor in its “Smoked by Windows Phone” competition, even though it seems to have finished first. Microsoft ended up doing the right thing and giving him both an Ultrabook and a phone.
Inspired by Katta’s experience, The Verge’s Sean Hollister went to the same store and took up the “Smoked” challenge for himself. He lost, resoundingly. But he wrote a nice piece on the experience, and on the contest in general. Executive summary: the challenges are all fundamentally stacked in Microsoft’s favor, since they’re designed to show off the things that Windows Phones can do more swiftly than other phones.
I don’t think there’s a scandal here. For one thing, the name of the whole promotion is “Smoked by Windows Phone,” not “Evenly-Balanced Face-Off With Windows Phone.” For another, the magnitude of the prize offered for beating Windows Phone at one task — an HP Ultrabook laptop — tells you that Microsoft expects to win nearly every time. (Hollister brings up the same point of comparison that came to my mind: rigged carnival games.)
Would Microsoft do this all over again if it knew that conversation about the contest would turn to a blogosphere debate about whether it’s fair, and being fairly administered? Maybe. Windows Phone is an unusually streamlined mobile operating system, with more built-in features for everyday tasks than its competitors. I don’t need to be personally smoked by it to appreciate its virtues — and I understand why Microsoft sought a creative way to spread the word.