As I write this, I am at Mall of America, the largest enclosed shopping mall in the country. I’m sitting on a chair that is right between the Apple Store and Microsoft Store. Yes they are, literally and not accidentally, right across the hallway from each other. The Apple Store was here first of course. For many years. I was here for its grand opening. Now that Apple has proven great success in retail, Microsoft is seeing the potential and opening its own similar stores as close to the Apple Stores as possible all across the country.

The cultures of these two tech behemoths could not be any more worlds apart and that gulf is easily apparent when contrasted by such short distance.

In one you have the clean minimalist designs that Apple is long famous for. Whites walls, blonde wood tables all designed to accompany and highlight the brushed aluminum iDevices for sale within.

In the other, bright reds, blues, greens, and yellows. Wrapped around the length and inset in the walls is one long giant video screen that is constantly changing with stock photos of cheerful people, screen captures from XBox games, and Metro UI suggestive tiles.

In one, you have a bustle of activity. People getting help in a iety of ways from young hip folks in matching blue shirts. No employee, far more than I can easily count, is want of anything to do Each has a customer they are attending to and it looks like others are waiting for their turn. Everyone is standing as there is nowhere to sit and, in any other environ, one might mistake it for a really cool party full of conversations you’d be tempted to eavesdrop on.

In the other, there are more employees than customers. You can tell who they are simply because their shirts are the same yellow, or green, or red, or blue of the Windows logo outside. The customers that are inside are sitting and surfing – perched upon on the stools that are at each demo laptop and desktop. I can see over the shoulder of the few from the other side of the glass. They are mostly on Facebook. The employees don’t seem to mind. One might mistake it for an internet café if one did not know otherwise. The customers seem to be treating it as one at least.

It is the chairs or lack thereof that really pique my interest the most. I wonder if they, more than anything else I see, speak the loudest to the differences between these two stores and these two companies. The existence of these chairs seem to me to be a symbol. Not a wholly negative or positive one. But a mark of something deeper all the same. Certainly an important distinction between how these two companies want you to engage with the products they have for sale in the places they have built to sell them.

In some ways, the chairs could be perceived as symbol of hospitality. But, looked at another way, they communicate inactivity and complacency. Standing, even when still, looks like activity more so than sitting does to me. Perhaps when a customer enters a store such as this, and can sit down and use the equipment without interference or engagement with the staff, they become less motivated to do anything more than that. Why buy the laptop when you can have the surfing for free? Perhaps when they enter a similar store without chairs, and are engaged on a regular basis by friendly but determined staff, there is a sense to take some action, even if that action is to leave empty-handed.

I wonder how much the Apple Store experience would change if there were place to sit at every station. Would the customers still buy or would they check their Facebook for free? I wonder how much the Microsoft Store experience would change by simply removing them.