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Wishing and Hoping in the Apple Store Aisles

By Keith Regan MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Nov 14, 2007 4:00 AM PT

It's still all about the iPod.

Wishing and Hoping in the Apple Store Aisles

In the past year, Apple has introduced two products hailed as revolutionary in at least some corners. The iPhone came to market with almost unmatched buzz for a mobile device. The Apple TV, meanwhile, got a more lackluster welcome, but was still viewed as a steppingstone toward making the Internet a more viable distribution channel for feature-length video.

At the same time, Apple has also enjoyed a dramatic resurgence in the personal computer space, with the MacBook and iMac selling better than ever before.

As Apple gears up for the 2007 holiday season, however, its retail stores reflect the continuing success of the device that has been largely responsible for much of that success.

Something for Everyone

The iPod rescued Apple from fringe status in the personal computer world and prompted the company to drop the word "computer" from its name. Further, as shoppers scurry to malls from Connecticut to California, it's the iPod they'll find front at center at Apple's retail outlets.

"The iPod continues to be what drives Apple to new heights," JupiterResearch analyst Michael Gartenberg told MacNewsWorld. "Each time they refresh that product line, they manage to meet or exceed already high expectations. It goes into this holiday season with a very deep and complete product line."

In fact, the new lineup has something for everyone, including those who already have a drawer full of iPods at home and those who have never taken the plunge.

iPods for All and to All a Good Night

Indeed, with so many iPods already sold, finding new customers is increasingly challenging and Apple's stores demonstrate just how broad the lineup of iPods has gotten.

At the Apple store in the Natick Collection outside Boston, the video iPod nano gets front-and-center treatment, an entire table set aside to display the device in its rainbow of colors, including the eye-grabbing red. An army of employees stands ready and willing to help demonstrate the devices. On one recent midday, a half dozen people surrounded the table, watching the device play back music videos.

The new nano is expected to be a strong seller this holiday season, but probably not a standout blockbuster. High-definition TV sets are at the top of the consumer wish list for this holiday period, along with PlayStation, Wii and Xbox gaming consoles, according to a recent report from Solutions Research Group.

For Apple, however, it's OK if one of its devices doesn't lead the pack, because it has an entire family of iPods across which to spread demand, from the original classic iPod to the entry-level shuffle.

Shoppers seem drawn to the colorful iPod nano lineup, but inevitably make their way over to the iPod touch display. For many, it's the first time they've laid hands on Apple's new interactive multi-touch display and most come away impressed.

"If I could afford it, I'd buy it right now," Tim Derderian told MacNewsWorld after setting the device down. The college student at nearby Framingham State College said he already owns a first-generation nano and a shuffle, but that the new Apple gadgets are considered must-haves among his friends. "I don't know anyone with a touch yet, but I expect after Christmas break, there will be a lot of them on campus."

Computers, Too

Of course, the Apple store also has its share of Macs and -- more often than not -- they are being used by a visitor to the store. Apple's policy has long been to leave Internet access on its display machines unfettered, and on two recent visits to the store, employees from other mall outlets could be found checking and sending e-mail on the iMacs along the wall.

One Apple device not on the top 25 wish list compiled by Solutions Research Group is the Apple TV, which gets a small corner of shelf space in the store. The little white box sits alongside a high-definition TV screen and a series of panels explaining how the device works. Most customers breeze past the display, however, as they move between the iPods and the Macs.

With Leopard having launched less than two weeks before, the Macs loaded with the new operating system are getting their share of attention of as well and employees are eager to demonstrate new search and other functions in the platform.

Donna Halloran, a clothing store manager and self-described Mac junkie, tests out a Leopard-loaded MacBook. She's already decided to buy the upgrade for both her iMac desktop but is wondering whether to buy a new MacBook Pro, she said. She can't buy an iPhone just yet thanks to a two-year Verizon contract signed just before the phone was announced, but has already put an iPod touch on the wish list she gave her husband, Halloran added.

"Every time they bring out a new device, I want to add it to my collection," she told MacNewsWorld. An employee comes by and greets Halloran, but doesn't try to make a sale.

"They pretty much know me here by now," she added.

Friendly Chitchat

In the Apple store, employees are never more than a few steps away. They hover and take turns offering assistance -- at one point, the badge-toting employees outnumber shoppers inside the store -- but they not only tolerate browsing and lingering, but encourage it by engaging in friendly chitchat.

Indeed, the workers at the store are eager to show what any gadget can do.

By the front display window, an employee named "Jim" is taking the iPhone through its paces, giving a young couple a demonstration that covers the phone's visual voice mail, built in iPod and Web-surfing functions in a minute or so.

The couple leaves without making a purchase, but there is a sense that it's only a matter of time before they come back to become customers.

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