Microsoft’s “Tech Lounge” is a great concept, but poorly executed

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The Tech Lounge, sponsored by Microsoft, is now open for business (Image: Monash University/supplied-ish)

Welcome to The Tech Lounge – a new initiative from Microsoft by installing student areas that basically promote Microsoft products. Windows 7, Xbox 360s with Kinect, Windows Phones and even the PixelSense touchscreen table – no Microsoft consumer product isn’t present in this place. Monash University joined the list of universities that have this sort of lounge, and while it’s a great marketing concept, I feel it was poorly executed.

The idea is great – have a place where students can meet up on their breaks and hang out and chat. My friends and I usually now hang out there, rather than the library, because it just happens to be closer to our lectures.

However, if it was trying to sell me buying a PC laptop instead of a Macbook Pro or Air, it has failed.

First, there are too many laptop choices present. While choice isn’t a bad thing, I struggled to decide what I wanted as a laptop – should I get a Dell, a Sony, or something from Lenovo? Maybe something from HP or Samsung? And since they are essentially the same (they’re all ultrabooks), I basically just give up and go for a Mac because there’s no clear distinction between which one is good or bad.

Understandably, Microsoft isn’t going to go out andnot include all their partners. They cannot go out and say that that Dell or Samsung are better than Acer or Lenovo, They have to let all of them have a chance to push their laptops out.

I still don’t know why there are desktops are present, but there are four of them – again made by different manufacturers. It is probably missing the target audience because most uni students want a computer that they can take anywhere, so a desktop is out of the question. The only time a uni student would want a desktop is basically to build a gaming PC – and usually they’re custom built as opposed to bought from Asus or Lenovo.

The Windows Phone stand inside the Tech Lounge (Image: Monash University/supplied-ish)

Microsoft isn’t doing much to market Windows Phone in the “Tech Lounge”

The Windows Phone section features phones from Nokia, HTC and Samsung – the only three major manufacturers making phones for the platform. However, Microsoft isn’t doing much to market Windows Phone in the “Tech Lounge”, and that could be because of Windows Phone 8 and the fact that these phones won’t be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8. However, that shouldn’t stop them from pushing the Windows Phone brand to students and get them talking.

A university is a great place to market a smartphone because most people are still on prepaid and are not on smartphone – mainly the first years. But simply showing a demo unit with the default apps does little to promote the OS. People do pick them up and do use them – but only once and for five minutes before putting it back down and just ignoring it. It should be preloaded with apps such as Angry Bird or other games available on Windows Phone, education apps to help productivity, and local apps for the international students.

Microsoft, you’re trying to sell the fact that Windows Phone is on par with iOS and Android in some degree.

The biggest thing is that it is such a disappointment

Microsoft has even installed a PixelSense table – a rare piece of technology, especially with a pricetag of US$8000 per table. Using it, I can tell you that there are some problems such as touch gestures not being recongised in some cases. But the biggest thing is that it is such a disappointment. The table is installed with a few number of applications – including Bing, Minesweeper and an app that lets you play videos. I wanted to like it, but there are so few things to do on it that are ‘fun’.

Don’t get me wrong, PixelSense is a great piece of technology and has really good applications – especially in education and in social.. Microsoft have shown so many applications for PixelSense (back then, the Surface – before the tablet it is soon to launch took the name) such as NUIverse, which lets you look at space. I was surprised that it was very limited.

Also, it needs more games – like I don’t know, Chess? (Yes I know, I am such a nerd) Minesweeper is good, but it does get boring when it is one of two games available on it.

If Microsoft was really wanting to promote itself – I would replace the Windows 7 computers in a couple of months with the Surface tablet with Windows 8.  And it probably should be done earlier than an expected release date for two reasons – 1. it makes my job a bit easier because I get to play with the Surface tablet earlier; and 2. there’s hype already around the product, so letting them play with it can surely attract people to buy it when it does eventually come out to Australia.

Windows Phone 8 also needs to be marketed as soon as possible – again, like suggested for Windows 8 and the Surface, done earlier to get those people to want to buy it when it comes out. The Tech Lounge is a great promotional tool – and it should be used to not only promote current stuff, but future things a month or two earlier than release.

Negatives aside, the Microsoft and Monash University people have done well in creating an atmosphere that makes it seems relaxing, almost like a coffee shop environment (that said, please install a coffee machine in there). Walls are plastered with classic and recent movies posters, and there’s even a photo of Microsoft’s first employees hanging. There are TV screens also hanging on the walls – though I’m not sure what do they do because they’re usually off or showing something and no one can figure out how to change it.

The “Tech Lounge” doesn’t feel temporary but more like it will be here for a long time – not forever, but maybe for five years before being reused for something else. Previously, that space was just empty – rarely used and predominantly for storage. It’s open for everyone – but I get the feeling the people who’ll use it the most will be those from the Faculty of IT. Though, I might be saying that only because I come from the very same faculty.

If done right, it could certainly have some impact

The latter end of 2012 is packed for Microsoft with Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8, and the “Tech Lounge” probably the best marketing tool they have to compete against the attractiveness of Apple’s own products – considering that the Apple Store in Chadstone is just a few minutes drive away (the local Apple retailer, CompNow, decided to shut all of its stores in universities)

This concept won’t have a large impact against Apple – and Microsoft knows this. But it if done right, it could certainly have some impact. And you may never know, when you come down to Monash University, you might see more PCs instead of iPads and Apple products being flaunted about on campus.

Disclaimer: Terence Huynh is a student studying Software Engineering at Monash University, Clayton. Both Microsoft and Monash University have not paid nor influenced Terence Huynh to write this, or to lessen his criticisms. Images come from Monash University – though via their intranet page.

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