Without any organic excitement for today's Surface tablet debut, Microsoft has resorted to faking it. Take the lines outside its 60 retail locations. The Seattle store had a bona-fide-gathering, found GeekWire's Todd Bishop, who describes the group as "stretching around the building." That sounds promising, but looking into it more he also found "a significant portion of those in line are somehow affiliated with Microsoft, either as employees, vendors, or contractors." Many of the others awaiting the new gadget, like the dozen people outside of the Times Square location yesterday, might have come for the $100 XBox Music Pass Microsoft offered the first 100 liner-uppers, in order to generate buzz. Unlike Apple, which can attract a well-attended union of Fanboys there more for the sport than the gadget, Microsoft doesn't have that power. So, instead, it's making it up.
I felt the same forced rah-rah-ing at Surface tablet event yesterday, during which there was a lot of clapping and hollering going on from the three people my right, in an otherwise clap-light crowd. This was at the press only event, where everyone should have had the red Press badge to the right. These people had purple "attendee" badges, leading me to wonder if they were professional clappers, hired hands, if you will. When I asked if they worked for Microsoft I got a cagey head-shake from one, with the other saying "they are media" pointing to her two whistle happy friends. "If the badge was not red and did not say press, then that person was not a member of the media," a Microsoft spokesperson told me. So what were they then? With Microsoft having friends to wait in line at the Seattle store, it wouldn't surprise me if these people were buds of the company or worked for Microsoft PR and were there trying to get the press crowd excited.
Even if these were innocent bystanders, genuinely jazzed for the Surface's kickstand and touch keyboard, they were the only ones at that level, making it feel manufactured. It would have come off as more legitimate if the rest of the crowd had been ooh-ing and aah-ing as well. Journalists aren't above that. I spotted some red-badged clappers during the Windows 8 announcement earlier that day. And there isn't an unclapped hand in this group live at the iPad Mini announcement.
Lots of genuine excitement, here, too.
The same goes for the lines. Adding friends and PR people to a big crew who can't wait to get their new toy, bulks up the crowd and helps create a good vibe. It's not like Apple is above this. It uses its retail employees like Bat-Mitzvah pump up dancers, short of making them lead the Cotton-Eyed-Joe. It's just more obvious (and sad) when the base-level buzz isn't there.