Apple threw open the doors to media to look inside the Sydney Apple Store before its official opening today. So is it just a fancy shop, or is there more?
Tomorrow, at 5pm, Apple will open the doors of its first Australian Store. The public launch on Thursday of the company's 215th retail store is guaranteed to be a bona fide consumer spectacle with lots of crowding, queues, hype and hoopla — but today, APC got inside for a special media sneak preview to see what all the fuss is about.
Apple's first official foray into the Australian retail shopfront space comes a whopping 25 years after the company started selling its Macs here — so now that they've arrived, they're determined to make an impact.
As such, the first thing you notice about Apple's new George Street Sydney Store is that it's big. Big and shiny. Yep, the company has brought the same designer sheen to its latest shopfront as it does to its products. The Sydney Store is actually the second-largest Apple Store in the world (after London's Regent St outlet).
The new building, housed at 367 George St, is fronted with a massive glass facade that takes up the entire street frontage. According to Apple's head of retail, Ron Johnson, this 700 square-metre glass atrium is composed of the largest sheets of laminated glass ever created. Simply put, the building has bling appeal — and has been overtly designed to capture attention and invite passersby inside.
Once you're through the doors, Apple's 'unique retail experience' begins. The Sydney Store has three levels. Each floor is quite narrow and very long — indeed, we were a little surprised at how shallow the building actually was — not that it's lacking floorspace, mind you. Each level has a very widespread feel to it — and then there's the products.
Whereas some electronics shops can get rather crowded, providing limited access to a minimal range of tech on display, Apple has gone out of its way to create a very spacious and abundant experience for customers. The ground floor is devoted to Apple's core raison d'etre: Macs. And there's 90 of them here for you to play with, all online and spread out neatly on massive tables. Whether you want to check your email on a MacBook, surf the net on an iMac or just gauge the weight and dimensions of the MacBook Air — there's not much to stop you. It's a clever retail strategy, clearly aimed at enabling people to enjoy as much some hands-on time as they can afford. (Just remember that the abyss gazes also — all that exposure to Apple hardware just may have an effect on you.)
The first floor is dedicated to Apple's portable product range: the iPod and its accessories, soon the iPhone, and software too. Once again, there's a huge range on offer, although it does look a little strange seeing a table after table set up with ten identical iPods in a row — presumably, if the Store proves popular, people will be thankful that there's so much tech on display: ten iPods won't seem like too many if nine of them are already being played with when you rock up.
Finally, the top floor deals Apple's killer punch: the 20-metre-long 'Genius Bar' provides free tech help and assistance from a range of 'Mac Geniuses'. What's more, the Store provides Personal Training facilities and can cater to approximately 1,000 appointments a day. Add to this dedicated youth programs and workshops and suddenly you understand why Apple's Authorised Resellers in the inner-Sydney area would be feeling so threatened by the George St development.
It's hard to see how any third-party Apple dealers could hope to compete with the sheer product range and level of service and support on offer at the new Sydney Apple Store. Some have said that this represents Apple biting the hand that has fed it for this past quater-century; after all, somebody had to be selling Aussies all those Macs and iPods over the last 25 years.
Not that Apple will be losing too much sleep over that tonight — on the eve of its national debut. The colonisation has now offically begun. Next stop: Melbourne, Chatswood or Brisbane?