You may have heard about the Smoked by Windows Phone competition by now. In these events, a Windows Phone device is pitted against any other smartphone and both are made to do a simple task, with the winner being the one who completes it first. The task is usually something as simple as taking a picture and uploading it to Facebook or finding directions to a place. But as it turns out, this challenge is not as fair as Microsoft makes it out to be, as Sahas Katta of Skatter Tech found out the hard way.
Katta was in a Microsoft store where he wanted to take part in the competition. He was armed with his new Galaxy Nexus. The challenge given to him was to bring up the weather of two different cities as quickly as possible.
Luckily for Katta, he had set up the weather for two cities on his homescreens using widgets and he had also disabled the lockscreen on his phone, a feature found on Android 4.0. Because of this, he could get to his homescreen from sleep mode with just one click of the power button. As you can tell, he was going to win even before the competition started, because no matter how quick Windows Phone is, you’d require at least two interactions (press power button, slide lock screen) to get to the homescreen.
That’s basically what happened when the competition started, with Katta managing to finish before his opponent, who also happened to have the weather for two cities on the homescreen (more on this later). But as it turns out, the winner was actually declared to be the Windows Phone? Why? “Just because”.
That’s just one of the vague replies that Katta got when he asked the people in the Microsoft store for answers. Eventually he had to leave because clearly no one there was in a mood to declare him the winner and give him the prize, a $1,000 special edition laptop.
As you can see, these competitions may not be as clean as the Microsoft’s official videos make them out to be. Other than the fact that the people in the store refused to acknowledge Katta as the winner, they also played dirty by having the weather widgets of the two cities right on the homescreen even before the competition started. That’s not how Windows Phone comes out of the box. Microsoft had set up their phone to a favorable state before the competition, which is basically cheating. Had Katta not had the weather widgets on his phone (which is fine because he actually uses that phone and wasn’t aware of the challenge until he was told about it), he would have taken much longer to bring the weather up. Not that it matters because they declared him the loser anyway.
Of course, this is not to say that all the Smoked by Windows Phone competitions are bogus or that Windows Phone isn’t good at doing some tasks faster than its rivals (it is). But this example here proves that we need to take these things with a heavy dose of Sodium Chloride.
Update: Ben Rudolph, the person who usually takes part in these competitions on behalf of Microsoft, has apologized for what happened to Katta and offered to do a rematch on a random challenge. To be honest, the better thing to do would be just give the guy the prize he won fair and square.
Update 2: Ben Rudolph has posted another tweet where he now wants to make things right and give Sahas Katta the $1,000 laptop that he won, along with a free phone. So it seems everything is peachy now.
Update 3: According to the latest report by The Verge, Microsoft admits to using only those challenges where it knows it will have an upper hand, while avoiding those where it could lose or the result would be a tie, among other things. So no, there is nothing random (and might I even add fair) about these events and everything, including the part where you lose to the Windows Phone, is part of the plan.