Microsoft's first retail stores will open this fall in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Mission Viejo, Calif., according to the company.
Fulfilling an earlier promise to challenge Apple's retail experience head-on, Microsoft will open a storefront at The Shops at Mission Viejo, which already features an Apple Store. By contrast, the mall in Scottsdale will be competition-free for the planned Microsoft outlet.
Microsoft spokesperson Kim Stocks referred to both locations as "hot markets."
Microsoft's store openings constitute a large part of the company's broader strategy to take its rivals in a more aggressive manner. As detailed in a 140-slide PowerPoint document leaked to Gizmodo, early concepts for the store include kiosks for products such as Windows 7 and Windows Mobile-equipped smartphones, along with wall displays for Xbox, accessories, laptops and software.
In a nod to the Apple Store, some of the PowerPoint slides feature designs an in-store event area, as well as an "Answers Bar" that seems reminiscent of Apple's Genius Bar. Microsoft hired consulting company Lippincott, whose client roster includes McDonald's, Sonic Drive-In and Wal-Mart, to craft the concepts.
Microsoft seemed displeased about the leak, with a spokesperson dismissing the slides as merely rough drafts of the stores' final form:
"As a part of our process in briefing creative agencies, we shared some early prototypes and concepts of our retail store plans. No final decisions have been made. As we previously announced, we are on track to open retail stores this fall."
Microsoft hired George Blankenship, the former Gap executive who helped launch Apple's retail arm in 2001, to help guide its store rollout. Blankenship's role with Apple was to choose the best locations for stores, something he could potentially emulate for Microsoft.
With sales of new PCs and devices dragged down by the continuing recession, though, Microsoft could also find itself vulnerable as it extends into the retail space. The Redmond, Wash., company is hoping that its upcoming operating system, Windows 7, will prompt a new round of hardware purchases as customers and businesses decide to engage in a tech refresh.