Is Microsoft Going to Get Smoked by Their Own Challenge?

When your platform is at a very delicate time, you really cannot afford having negative press about a promotion get more viral attention than the promotion itself. This is a problem facing Microsoft today based on some stories related to the latest version of their ‘Smoked by Windows Phone’ challenge.

The challenge started out simply enough – timed simple tasks with a $100 prize. The tasks required user interaction, and were obviously designed to favor Windows Phone. But last week Microsoft upped the ante to a custom Hunger Games PC worth $1000! That obviously brought in more challengers.

Of course, based on my own experience and the near-switcher stories of Dan & Judie – Windows Phone is an EXCELLENT operating system deserving attention. But as I said … not the wrong kind.

There is a story making heavy rounds about a person names Sahas Katta who went into a Microsoft Store to accept the ‘Smoked by Windows Phone’ challenge, but as he says was denied victory ‘just because’. Here are some of the details:

The Microsoft Store employee I was up against then explained the selected challenge. Her exact words were the following: “bring up the weather of two different cities.” The one who could do that first would win. I felt like I struck gold since I knew I already had two weather widgets on my home screen: one for my current location (San Jose, CA) and another for Berkeley, CA.

After a three-second count down, I hit the power button on my phone and said “DONE!” out loud. I had disabled the lock screen entirely, which is a rather awesome out-of-the-box feature of Android that takes you straight to the home screen with a single push of the power button. I didn’t even need to touch the screen, since the two weather widgets were already there.

My opponent finished a split-second later. She had two live tiles on her home screen displaying the weather of two different cities as well. Why does it take longer on Windows Phone? She had to perform two actions. First, she hit the power button to turn on the screen. Second, she had to swipe away the lock screen. That’s pretty much as fast as it gets on that platform. Windows Phone takes two interactions. Android takes just one.

I excitedly thought I won out of pure luck. However, I was quickly told that I lost. I asked for a reason and was told Windows Phone won because “it displays the weather right there.” That was rather unclear. I showed her my device which also was showing off the same information with two side-by-side weather widgets on the center home screen. After pressing for a better reason, I was told that Windows Phone won “just because.”

While this is just ‘one person’s story’, it has gotten well over 250 comments and generated a massive thread at Reddit. The bottom line – this isn’t an isolated story. It seems that the demands of all the contenders vying for the $1000 prize is more than the Microsoft stores could handle.

But as the story escalated, Microsoft went into damage control. First they offered a rematch, which was smartly rejected (fair or not, the guy had public opinion on his side), and then came the full apology:

Windows Phone evangelist Ben Rudolph has taken to Twitter to apologize and offer Katta a new laptop and Windows Phone, as well as an apology. His Tweet is as follows:

“Hey @sahaskatta , @Microsoftstore & I want to make things right. So I’ve got a laptop & phone (& apology) for you. Email me!”

Will things settle down now? It really isn’t clear – but something tells me Microsoft will think twice about having such a high-stakes challenge again based on a single task!

What do you think – did Microsoft handle this poorly, or is this someone taking advantage of an unclear situation by leveraging social media and a general mistrust of Microsoft? Do you think it will hurt Windows Phone or be forgotten in the next wave of iPhone 5 rumors?

Categories: News


9 replies

  1. I read through the original blog post and it seems that he won quite fairly. MS chose a poor test in this case where someone can easily turn off the lock screen to get to the same information. I was quite impressed by Mr. Katta’s account and his responses. He appreciates the WP platform for its own strengths while acknowledging that it also lacks in some areas. All of his responses were polite. He even consented to have his picture taken. The MS employees at this store treated him poorly and I think they’ll be in for a severe reprimand even while MS takes the “weather” test out of the running.  The story cost more than $1000 in bad publicity for MS and WP, but it will probably blow over if people point out that MS did make it right (even if under heavy pressure to do so).

    I don’t think Mr. Katta is taking advantage of MS in this case. He didn’t know which test would be chosen and his phone was ready to go for that particular test. He was justifiably upset at “losing” in this case, but even then his blog post was very polite and reasonable.

    I generally like MS and like the WP platform, but MS was apparently in the wrong here from what I’ve read and won’t defend those actions. I’m glad they eventually made it right, but hope that this doesn’t happen again.

    • I tend to agree … but the thing is, do we have video-tape evidence showing what was said and done?  The whole ‘just because’ strains credulity a bit, though I tend to think the rest is likely true, and it was apparently ‘truthy’ enough for Microsoft to want to shut this guy up.

      There have been too many cases where the base story is shaky at best, but the viral damage is tremendous so the company will pay to shut the person up even if they didn’t think they were in the wrong.

      Again, not saying this is the case here – because none of us know.  We are hearing ONE side of a TWO sided story.  But as you say, Mr. Katta has been very respectful and positive throughout.

      Unfortunately for the other 99% of us running an Android OS from 2010 or earlier, disabling the lock slider isn’t an option ‘baked in’ … I checked five phones in my house and none would do it.

      • I’ve got one corporate Android – not allowed to be without a password, let alone a lock screen. I also have a Samsung Focus as my normal use phone. It _is_ fast to get to a couple of weather tiles, even if that would be mostly useless. From what I remember reading the “just because” wasn’t a direct quote, more of the way he felt he was treated because nobody could give a really good reason why he lost. It would be easy enough to go through the test again if necessary and I’m sure that Ben would have a decent chat with Mr. Katta about the details. Others posted their support that disabling the lock screen was an option. Seeing that he was pretty reasonable about it, there’s a good chance that he’s got a good case and the story is completely believable. I’ve seen those stories that are shaky as well, but since most of the contests are really rigged for where WP shines, you’d have to have a good case for why you really won. :)

  2. There is a similar story about a woman who tied a particular test (ties are supposed to be wins) who was refused the prize because she did not place her phone on a podium when the task was complete (a rule that she wasn’t told previously.)

    There is no doubt that they allowed this to get out of hand and, yes, handled it poorly. The good news is that few really care all that much and the vast, vast majority of people who buy smartphones will never have heard of this silliness. 

  3. I believe Ben Rudolph has publicly apologized for the gaffe and has offered the winner a laptop and phone.