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Shop different: What's a new product launch without lines around the Apple Store?

Michael Simon | April 27, 2015
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.

And I'm not so sure we'll be seeing an Apple Watch 2 this time next year, either. Luxury items don't follow timetables for release, and Apple is clearly marketing Apple Watch as a fashion accessory and not necessarily something packed with cutting-edge technology. From the glass display cases to the try-on appointments, Apple is treating Apple Watch unlike any other product it has ever released.

So while the Apple Watch launch may seem somewhat uncharacteristic, it could signal a conscious move away from the classic product release. Not only does Apple Watch represent a new stream of revenue for the company, it also takes some pressure off its other products, namely iPhone. Eventually, iPhone could follow a MacBook-type upgrade path, with sporadic chip upgrades and case redesigns every few years. The 24-month contracts we sign have trained us to expect annual upgrades of everything in Apple's catalogue, and every other tech company has followed suit. It's an unsustainable pace, one that few other industries in the world follow, least of all luxury brands.

Time for change

In a video message obtained by Mac4Ever earlier this week, Ahrendts offered something of a clarification of her earlier memo. In it, she assures employees that she isn't looking to alter the core Apple Store launch experience, saying, "We love our iconic blockbuster launches that we do in the stores. And have absolutely no fear: You will see those. This is just a unique situation."

But with stock limited to boutique stores like Dover Street Market, Maxfield, Colette and The Corner, Apple is clearly steering traffic away from its own stores. In her original memo, Ahrendts suggested the Apple Watch launch represented a "significant change in mindset" for Apple, and it's easy to imagine a future where new iPhones or iPads launch with a similarly muted fanfare.

But if anyone can successfully steer such a change without igniting a cultural backlash, it's Ahrendts. As the longtime CEO of Burberry, she understands full well how to treat a beloved brand with respect and admiration while still adapting it for a new era. As Apple continues to make its transition to a full-on purveyor of luxury goods, its retail locations will likely become more akin to jewelry stores than technology ones; before long I imagine there will only be one of each color of iPhone and iPad on display, not a whole table of them. Large swaths of display space will be devoted to showcasing the various models of watches, as Apple Watch gradually becomes an increasingly important product in its catalogue.

Haves and have-nots

The Apple Watch launch is about more than eliminating lines. When Ahrendts took the reins at Burberry, one her first decisions was to shutter some 35 product categories containing the recognizable check pattern to recast the company as the luxury brand and dissuade knock-offs — not unlike how Steve Jobs shut down the Macintosh clone program on his return to Apple.


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