To date, Windows Phone hasn't really received the attention or adoption we or Microsoft expected it would, especially here in the States. Things aren't necessarily bad, for Microsoft; they virtually have Android in their pocket. But their own platform likely hasn't even earned back Microsoft's initial investment yet. The launch of a few Windows Phone-powered Nokia phones could change that, but for now, it's an uphill battle.
The biggest issue thus far has been a lack of consumer interest and carrier support on a sales level. Despite launching several Windows Phone across every major U.S. carrier in 2011, sales reps' attentions were focused on everything iPhone and Android. This year, however, Microsoft has made it very clear that they want to win on the marketing front. They've been putting devices in sales associates' hands and supplying carriers with vital training information. They have been giving carriers a reason and the knowledge to sell Windows Phone.
The other big marketing tactic that Microsoft has been using to pull new, potential customers in its doors are their Smoked by Windows Phone challenges, which have been going on since around the time of CES back in January. The idea is that a contestant with a phone from a competing platform will compete against a Microsoft employee equipped with a Windows Phone. If the contestant (or "entry" as Microsoft refers to them as) completes the delegated task before the person with the Windows Phone, they win a prize, which has varied from $100 to a new phone. This weekend, in honor of the arrival of The Hunger Games in theaters across the nation, Microsoft was offering a Hunger Games Special Edition laptop – worth over $1000 – to winners of the challenge. Contestants who lose the challenge have the opportunity to trade in their existing phone for a Windows Phone, so long as they agree to be in a future Microsoft ad.
So far, so good. That is, until Sahas Katta of Skatter Tech told his tale from this weekend. Katta took to his local Microsoft store to try his hand at the contest. Here is part of his story:
"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."
Katta explained that his opponent finished just a split-second later due to her having two live tiles pinned on her home screen, unsurprisingly of two different cities. Imagine that. Despite having met the conditions of the challenge and beating the Microsoft employee to the punch, Katta actually lost the challenge and was given three absurd reasons as to why: "Windows Phone won because 'it displays the weather right there'", "just because" and because the cities Katta used were not from different states and that his phone "could not do that."
To be fair, Katta could be twisting the actual details a bit, as people often do in these situations. He could have been caught up in the excitement and could have missed a few crucial pieces of information about the contest. Or, he could be recounting the events exactly as they happened. We'll never really know. And I'm sure that in many cases Windows Phone can probably run circles around a vast majority of Android devices. But there is a part of me that mostly wants to believe Katta (and the growing number of commenters on his article and on Reddit that share his sentiments) here. After all, why would Microsoft want to admit to losing, fair and square, when they had a rigged sure-shot win on their hands?
Let's assume that Katta is telling the truth, however. In this case (and likely most others), a Microsoft employee had pre-loaded the Windows Phone with the necessary information in order to win the showdown without a ... real contest. What are the odds that anyone else would have had two cities' weather (from two different states, nonetheless) pre-loaded on to their home screens with widgets? My guess would be slim to none. Even if – for whatever reason – they were pitted against another Windows Phone, there would be no almost chance that another contestant could even come close to winning. Essentially, with these contests, Microsoft is only pitting Windows Phone's strengths against other platforms and, apparently, pre-loading the contender phones with the proper material before the phones go head to head.
No matter how you look at it, they're playing dirty and sleazy. Some might go as far as calling it cheating. It's about as fair as trying to see who, between an iPhone user and an Android user, can add a widget to their home screen faster.
But this shouldn't come as a surprise, honestly. Despite Windows Phone being a nice platform that is undoubtedly smooth and fast, Microsoft isn't going to risk it being beaten by its biggest competitors – at least not in a fair battle. So they're succumbing to being just like that sore loser nobody wanted to play with as a kid, that kid that twisted the rules every step along the way, no matter what game you were playing, to ensure the odds were ever in his favor. (Conspiracy, anyone?) I know. I was once that kid.
Just to clarify, Microsoft, as genius as this challenge was to begin with, bending rules and playing dirty isn't making people love your platform any more than they were before. You're not fooling anyone and you're only upsetting people who – as this story would have us believe – won fair and square. If you're going to challenge other platforms and smartphones, do it right. Do it fair. And give people like Sahas Katta a fair shot at winning prizes. Or don't have the challenge at all. Either way, don't be a sore loser.
Update: Yesterday morning, Microsoft Evangelist and blogger Ben Rudolph (@BenThePCGuy) tweeted to Sahas Katta, saying he wanted to "make things right." He first challenged Katta to a rematch, but later Rudolph tweeted again offering to send Katta a laptop and a phone. Kudos, Ben and Microsoft.