There was a time when Apple launches didn't light up headlines around the web. When the original iPod was released back in November of 2001, for example, the only people lining up were at Apple Stores in Littleton, Colorado, and Newport Beach, California — and most of them weren't looking to fork over $399 for an mp3 player. They just wanted one of the free grand-opening T-shirts.
But ever since the iPhone, Apple launches have become major events, prompting long, snaking lines, week-long camp-outs, and blocked-out vacation days for Apple Store employees. Lines and crowds have become so commonplace that Apple routinely sets up rope stanchions and orders cases of water to keep things orderly.
So when Tim Cook announced Apple Watch would be available on April 24, we naturally assumed it would be more of the same, with the first tents popping up sometime Monday afternoon and at least one Apple Watch Edition purchase by a fledgling startup looking for some publicity. But that's not the case. And it may represent a major shift in both the way Apple releases and sells its products.
Today's Apple Stores are remarkably different than they were in 2001. The first retail space in Tyson's Corner, Virginia, had a familiar open floor plan, but distinct shopping sections for Home, Pro, and Solutions (complete with ceiling signs), a software "aisle" in the center, and Flower Power iMac cash registers. Tables were curved, shelves were black, and the Genius Bar had a phone that direct-dialed to Cupertino.
But the overall mission was the same: to spotlight Apple's products. Before the Apple Store, Macs were somewhat difficult to come by in the retail world, with stores like CompUSA and MicroCenter often displaying older models instead of the new ones everyone wanted to see. And there were no celebratory launches — I can remember heading over to my local CompUSA on March 24, 2001, to pick up my copy of Mac OS X 10.0 Cheetah and getting a series of blank stares until a manager finally went to the stockroom to find one.
The Apple Store changed all that, offering a place where the latest and greatest Apple products were always on display and available for purchase. Launch days were like little parties, and you can argue that the early iPhone models wouldn't have been nearly as popular without the lines of excited buyers in front of the Apple Stores. The people waiting outside advertised, built hype and turned a niche product into something everyone had to have.
Carry that wait
Since the launch of the iPhone, however, Apple has grown from a company with a small, incredibly loyal fan base to one that sells tens of thousands of iPhones every hour. Apple products have gone from relatively rare to ubiquitous, and for those of us who don't live near Cupertino or Palo Alto, waiting on line at Apple Stores keeps us connected to Apple's begotten culture. It's not necessary, but it's fun.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.