Yes, even your friendly neighborhood IT Pro here at 404 Tech Support gets to take a vacation every now and again. Recently, I took a 10 hour train ride to the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. The ride wasn’t bad, it allowed me some time to read and relax. The Amtrak train was lacking outlets on one stretch and wifi would have been nice as we went in and out of 3G networks but it all worked out in the end. Fortunately the destination, Mall of America, was more tech prepared. It also has some room to adopt modern technologies in order to improve the Mall for the tech savvy.
Let’s head on in!
Of course, the first thing you’re wondering about in Mall of America is the stores. What stores are there that would be worth my visit from a tech perspective? There are over 400 stores at the Mall of America, here are some of those that might interest you if you’re shopping for electronics: Microsoft Store, Apple Store, Radio Shack, Best Buy, Best Buy Mobile, Bose, GameStop, and others.
The Microsoft Store in MoA is actually right across the hall from the Apple store, as you can see in the picture I snapped below. The Microsoft Store’s grand opening was actually for the day I was leaving so I didn’t get to go in but it sounded like they had quite a line-up planned for the opening.
Kevin Remde, a Microsoft blogger at Full of I.T., captured some of the fun at the Microsoft Store Grand Opening event.
2. Digital Signage
Digital signage was peppered throughout the Mall of America allowing display ads to rotate and show more information for the same amount of real estate as static ads.
3. Kinect Demo
Before the Kinect for the Xbox 360 launched and before the Microsoft Store opened, Microsoft had a big kiosk in an open space in the hallway where they had a number of Kinect systems setup to demo a few games.
The Kinect was fun to try but definitely has some requirements that won’t work for a lot of people like having a big open space in front of their TV. My conclusion from the demo was that I SUCK at the fist-pumping/dance game while the Rallyball and River Rafting games were fun. I was happy to have been able to experience the system first hand so I can better understand when people are talking about it.
4. Lego Modeling
Another example of my poor timing, The Lego Imagination Center at the Mall of America was being remodeled for the first time in a long time and it just so happened to be closed during my visit. You could see the construction going on, ironically it wasn’t being built with Lego bricks, and there were cloaked life-size Lego creations hanging from the ceiling. Despite the impressive, imagination-exciting full store being closed, Lego did have a smaller store open temporarily off the amusement park. They had tons of Lego sets to buy but unfortunately no Lego Batman Batmobile.
Elevating the Lego store from just a toyland for kids and into the tech paradise realm was this little thing called the Digital Box. In brief, you could hold up a Lego set in front of the camera and it would show you the set in 3D video how the model looked and what parts it included. We saw the Lego Tower Bridge with cars going over it and the Lego Creator Space Shuttle which would actually take off and land on the screen. You can rotate the box in your hands to rotate the finished model on screen.
5. Samsung Mobile Charging Stations
These Samsung Mobile Charging Stations are in a few places around the Mall, most notably the food courts. These mobile charging stations were just 3 foot high tables with 8 outlets on them. A spire sticks out through the center of the table advertising a new Samsung phone. If you have your charger on you, you can charge your phone while you’re enjoying lunch in the food court. It seems like it would make more sense if they had Micro USB cables hanging out instead of requiring you to have your charger.
MagiQuest is a live-action, role playing game. You pick up a wand from the store front and then enter a fantasy realm. Your wand then allows you to interact with objects in the realm. For example, you wave your wand at a treasure chest over yonder and it will open up on its own and add the 200 gold pieces that it was holding to your account.
You then take on quests like returning a book of spells to the master wizard or defeating the goblin king. You’ll have to run around the store and use your wand to collect things before you can complete the quest but once you have all the objects, you visit the final person like the princess and use your wand to activate the portal to give them what you’ve collected and complete the quest.
The tech for MagiQuest is in its wand. It shoots out IR waves to receivers in the game’s objects like treasure chests, books, stars, and even caged monsters. Your progress in a quest and the money you collect is all held in your account but the wand and its technology allows you to slip out of the Mall and into the arcade/live-action game.
Unfortunately, MagiQuest inside of Mall of America is closing on January 2nd. There are other locations around the country but the MagiQuest location on the 3rd floor seemed to bring something unique to the Mall. If you visit between now and January 2nd, you can bring your wand, pay for 90 minutes of game time, and the rest of the day is free to play. There are also other locations around the country to visit.
On a side note, if you’re looking for a magic wand, you might check out ThinkGeek’s Magic Wand TV Remote. (unrelated to MagiQuest)
7. Flight Simulators
A.C.E.S. Flight Simulators is also on the third floor and provides a very realistic flight simulator. There are a number of the flight simulators in the store and you can pay for half an hour at a time. Friends and passer-bys can watch your flight on TVs near the entrance to the store.
Foursquare, the location based app for most phones, was thoroughly integrated into Mall of America. I’m fairly certain everywhere we went there was a place to check-in all set up with a few places giving rewards like a free appetizer for every 5th check-in at Crave.
Mall of America has a theater with D-Box movie seats. These seats move with the action of select movies. With an action-packed movie this could be awesome and increase how immersed you feel in the story. I tried out the demo with the Harry Potter trailer and it was impressive but also made me concerned for how I would feel after 2 hours of the rocking, raising, and tossing around.
10. Digital Surveys
If you’ve ever been intercepted in the mall by somebody wanting to do a survey, entertainment works might be an improvement. They have computer kiosks in a few places around the mall to do these consumer surveys and I’m going to bet going digital makes the surveys a lot less painful than the paper surveys.
11. Credit card ready vending machines
Many of the things in this list are not unique to Mall of America and this last thing is no exception. The vending machines around MoA were credit card-ready and solved the problem of having to carry around spare change although there were plenty of restaurants and fast food places in the food courts, finding snacks were never a problem.
Even the arcades have tech-heavy prizes like an HDTV and a Kindle.
1. Limited Wifi
Access to Wifi is spotty because the coffee shops were providing it in various locations throughout the mall but nothing ubiquitous or that reliable. Fortunately I was able to get 5 bars of 3G and sometimes some 4G. The 3G was fast and I was able to look up a few things as needed or check into Foursquare.
2. Poor Mobile Website and No Digital Directories
This one isn’t really fair and further cements my bad timing. When I was there a little over a month ago, there was no app for your smartphone and the website was heavily Flash-driven, making navigating difficult. There was also no directory online. Well, now neither of those two things are true. MegaMall MN is an app by TwistByte for Android that provides a store guide to the Mall of America.
The website has also been revamped with a mobile version and the desktop version is not completely dependent on Flash any more. It also now has a directory and store map.
In addition, Bing Maps have started creating detailed maps for malls and they will get to the Mall of America shortly.
3. Spam Friendly
This is mostly a joke. I found a brochure for the Spam Museum which is South of Minneapolis in Austin, Minnesota. You know how we all hate spam in our inboxes…
Overall, it would appear the Mall of America is a Tech Paradise with many improvements to my complaints already being implemented since the month and a half when I visited.