Wednesday night I went to the theater in New York. Thursday afternoon I went shopping.
Rest assured, the shopping trip was all about work. I ventured out at lunchtime in Midtown Manhattan to see the brand-new Microsoft retail store on Fifth Avenue, which opened to much fanfare earlier this week. Microsoft timed the opening of its high-profile, high-end shop, in a former Fendi store, to follow the launch of its interesting new products, including the Surface Book combination tablet/laptop. That gadget is on display at the New York store, along with other Surface tablets and the newest version of Microsoft’s fitness tracker. The store even has its own behind-glass-only display product, the virtual-reality headset HoloLens. (It’s not for sale yet, except to qualified developers willing to spend $3,000 for a unit.)
I was prepared to dismiss the Microsoft store. After all, the cup-half-empty view is that it is merely an exquisitely rendered copy of an Apple store. Same bold glass windows on the street. Same tables lined with products. Same cheerful sales clerks clad in monochromatic t-shirts—though Microsoft’s retail workers wear one of the four colors of the Microsoft logo. Same meeting space for product workshops and other gatherings. An Answer Desk to replace a Genius Bar.
There are differences too. The first floor is devoted to Microsoft-branded products. The second floor is for gaming, primarily Microsoft’s own Xbox. The third floor, in a marked departure to the Apple approach, is given over entirely to hardware partner Dell.
But there was one important similarity: The ground floor of the Microsoft store was packed. (By comparison, the Tommy Hilfiger clothing and Stuart Weitzman boot shops on either side of Microsoft had just a trickle of shoppers.) I can’t say if the lunchtime crowd at Microsoft was buying or simply gawking. I can say they were engaged in animated conversations with the salespeople. I can also attest to the knowledge and enthusiasm of the saleswoman who answered my questions about various Microsoft products and the store itself.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it is said. Microsoft certainly is flattering Apple. Based on one visit during its marquee store’s opening week, I’d say it is flattering Apple well.
BITS AND BYTES
Alphabet contemplates return to China. Google exited the market in 2010, frustrated with the country’s censorship policies and weary of ongoing hacking incidents. Alphabet President Sergey Brin suggests that the company’s restructuring could make it simpler for other divisions, such as the Project Loon initiative using high-altitude balloons to spread Internet access into rural areas, to revisit that decision. (Wall Street Journal)
Apple appeals e-books verdict to Supreme Court. The company is still fighting to overturn a 2013 ruling that found it guilty of fixing prices in collusion with five big U.S. publishers. If this attempt fails, Apple will be required to pay
$450 million to consumers under a related settlement. (Fortune, Reuters)
LinkedIn beats third-quarter financial expectations. Revenue rose 37% to $780 million, beating a consensus estimate of $755 million. Even though its advertising revenue continues to decline, the social network posted a 46% revenue increase for its “Talent Solutions” business, a tool for headhunters. (Fortune)
Samsung ramps up automotive tech initiatives. Rivals Apple and Google are trying their hands at everything from intelligent dashboards to autonomous vehicles. The South Korean technology giant has been silent by contrast. Recent research and development activity suggests it’s changing gears—working on everything from drowsy-driver detection systems to display systems. (Reuters)
Google mulls consolidating mobile operating system software. The company hedged its bets by prioritizing Android for smartphones and tablets, and developing Chrome, an offshoot of its Web browser, for small notebooks. But the strategy proved confusing to consumers and costly for the creator. It intends to meld the two by 2017, reports the Wall Street Journal, with a preview version of the combined software anticipated next year. (WSJ)
Edward Snowden gets a break in Europe. The European Parliament voted Thursday to protect the National Security Agency whistleblower from extradition to the United States. Snowden is currently living at an undisclosed location in Russia, where he has been granted asylum until 2017. (Wired)
Struggling 3D printing company replaces CEO. Shares of 3D Systems have plummeted 90% in the past year, forcing the resignation Thursday of long-time leader Avi Reichental. The company’s chief legal executive, Andrew Johnson, is taking over. The move reflects struggles across the sector, as well as a dispute with a former executive that could cost it $11 million. (Fortune)
How mobile payments will grow in 2016
This week has produced a bonanza of mobile payments announcements, from a partnership between AmEx and Apple Pay to the new Chase Pay app. This flood of news isn’t a coincidence, Rather, it’s the result of the Money2020 conference in Las Vegas. Still, all these updates highlight some significant growing pains in the mobile payments market. Namely, despite there being multiple payments options available across smartphone platforms, usage is still low.
According to a recent Accenture survey, while 52% of North Americans are “extremely aware” of mobile payments, only 18% use them on a regular basis. Unsurprisingly, millennials and higher-income households lead the pack, with 23% and 38% using contactless payments at least once a week, respectively. Read more about Fortune‘s report on mobile payments adoption and what will sweeten the deal for consumers.
MORE FORTUNE TECH COVERAGE
The biggest ethical dilemma with driverless cars by Bill Buchanan
Study: Self-driving cars crash five times as much as regular ones
by Jen Wieczner
Why should you care about Gamergate? Because women are still being threatened. by John Gaudiosi
Microsoft and Dell are ditching employee performance reviews
by Geoff Colvin
What if the Twitter growth everyone is hoping for never comes? by Mathew Ingram
ONE MORE THING
China ranks dead last in Internet freedom. That’s according to an annual study of 65 nations by rights group Freedom House. Things are about to get even stricter—a Chinese law that takes effect Sunday carries prison sentences of up to seven years for communicating “false information” online. (New York Times)
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
QuickBooks Connect: SMBs, entrepreneurs, accountants and developers. (Nov. 2 – 4; San Jose, California)
SIMposium: CIOs, CTOs, and IT executives. (Nov. 1 – 3; Charlotte, North Carolina)
CMO+CIO: Forrester’s summit on strategy collaboration. (Nov. 2 – 4; Sarasota, Florida)
Oktane: Identity management trends. (Nov. 2 – 4; Las Vegas)
FutureStack: Define your future with New Relic. (Nov. 11 – 13; San Francisco)
AppSphere: Grow in a software-defined world. (Nov. 3 – Dec. 4; Las Vegas)
CES: The business of consumer technology. (Jan. 6 – 9, 2016; Las Vegas)
Google Ubiquitous Computing Summit: Platforms and protocols for wearables, home automation, and the Internet of things. (Jan. 11 – 12, 2016; San Francisco area)
Enterprise Connect: Communications and collaboration trends. (March 7 – 10, 2016; Orlando, Florida)