Happy birthday Apple retail: new products incoming?

By Jonny Evans

Apple [AAPL] retail is ten years old this Thursday, and the Mac rumor mill predicts the company plans something to mark the event-- though the most experienced Apple retail watchers disagree. So, if an event does take place, what might the company introduce? Could it be laying down the building blocks for future NFC-based payment systems?


[ABOVE: Apple's retail store front on NYC's Upper West Side (source: Apple).]

Smoke and fire

There's chatter claiming Apple has product launch plans this week/weekend. Plans requiring up to fifteen workers in each store, an overnight shift, a series of meetings and more.

BGR explains: "There's an overnight shift planned for around 10-15 individuals at each Apple Store to work from late Saturday all the way through mid-Sunday."

The implication is that anything which is announced may not actually be made available until the following weekend. This begs the question -- is this an anniversary event, or a standard product introduction?

Reportedly, employees have had to sign Non Disclosure Agreements (NDA's) while stores have already received hardware to install, with more hardware expected by the weekend. Materials are being kept locked away and curtained off, while a series of training materials are being distributed.

In product terms, this may end up becoming much ado about little, but don't underestimate the significance. That's because AppleInsider believes Apple intends deploying a fleet of iPads equipped with payment processing solutions inside its stores. This is a huge step toward using your iPhone as a credit card, as I've said before -- the challenges for NFC deployment in any device (not just Apple's) has been lack of an agreed universal processing system, the lack of terminals and security.


Why anniversary?

Apple retail's first stores opened at Tysons Corner (Virg) (above) at 10am May 19, 2001, followed by the Glendale Galleria opening three hours later.

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Alluding to the ten year anniversary, Apple CFO, Peter Oppenheimer speaking during the company's most recent financial call said:

"We are approaching the Retail Stores 10th anniversary on May 19, and we're on the verge of achieving a major milestone. In the next few days, we will be thrilled to welcome our 1 billionth visitor. Store traffic continues to be amazingly strong. And in the March quarter, we hosted a record 71.1 million visitors in our stores compared to 47 million visitors in the year ago quarter, an increase of 51 percent."

IFO AppleStore, which has followed the evolution of the stores for a decade starting with attendance at the very first opening, doesn't believe Apple plans a tenth birthday party:

"Apple doesn't look back, so I don't expect any official event, celebration or commemoration of May 19th. I do hear that something interesting will occur within the stores on the 19th or 20th, but it's not a celebration."


[ABOVE: Apple's amazing Pudong, China store (Source: Apple)]

Made of win

Apple's stores are among the world's most successful retail stores in any sector. The most opening day visitors were 11,000 people who attended day one of Apple's flagship UK store on Regent Street.

The company now has 85 stores outside the US with 323 stores in total and is expected to open its first store in Moscow within the next 12 months. It employs 30,200 staff in its retail arm.

The retail business is highly successful: Sales reached $3.19 billion for $807 million profit in Q2, 2011. The company shifted 797,000 Macs through its stores in the last quarter, around half of these to new users. An extensive selection of interesting retail statistics is available here.


What might Apple intend?

  • This leaves the MacBook Air or Mac Pro as likely upgrade candidates
  • There's also the potential introduction of new in-store services, or improvements in other products, such as the AirPort product range.(Which is what happened).
  • Apple may choose to introduce the latest version of Final Cut, as demonstrated at NAB last month. That launch could also see introduction of new pro Mac configurations.

Speak up -- what do you consider the most likely product or service Apple might upgrade, or what would you like it to introduce?

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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