It may not be Regent's Street, but Birmingham's Bullring shopping centre saw its share of Mac fans camping out for the grand opening of Apple's retail outlet there on Friday.
The first in the queue, Cathy Yan, hails from Beijing, although she didn't make the trip specifically to inspect Apple's second European retail outlet. Yan studies in Birmingham and arrived at the Bullring at 0700 with two friends, Joel Chu, a video production designer from London and Kenny Wang, also based in London.
The store will be a significant boost for Apple's European retail presence when it opens at 1800 GMT on Friday, timed to coincide with the worldwide debut of Mac OS X 10.4, or "Tiger" as it is affectionately known. The company is planning a third European store at the Bluewater shopping centre east of London. The Bullring, which opened about eighteen months ago, is locally known as "the boob tube" because the facade — covered with thousands of aluminium discs — was based on a 1970s party dress.
At Apple's Regent's Street opening last November — cleverly coinciding with a large Apple expo nearby — customers began lining up on Wednesday night for the store's early Friday opening, and by the time the doors opened thousands were waiting in the freezing cold. By contrast, the Birmingham queue was a less desperate affair. By 1500 about 100 people had joined the queue, many taking their ease in comfortable-looking camping chairs.
But by 1700, the queue had quadrupled in size — perhaps fuelled by Apple fans arriving from work.
Unlike last November, where customers had to sit in sleeping bags on the street for more than 24 hours to avoid frostbite, Friday's customers sweated under the direct sunlight streaming through the Bullring's skylight, which cancelled out the effects of the centre's air-conditioning system.
Those queuing acknowledged that the bright light made it a bit difficult to see the screens of their iBooks and PowerBooks, which, along with countless PDAs and all manner of iPods, were about the only way of passing the time. As with its other stores Apple has set up a wireless LAN in the store to demonstrate its AirPort networking gear, and fortunately for those waiting at 1500, the entire queue seemed to be in range.
Many in the queue said they work in media-related businesses that rely on Apple software, and most seemed to be veterans of the Regent Street opening, although few had chosen to wear their souvenir T-shirts. The big event of the day was the Tiger launch — the software will go on sale in stores globally at 1800 BST — and most of those waiting said they were looking forward to features such as Spotlight and Dashboard. Some of the laptops in the queue, in fact, were already running development versions of Tiger.
Few seemed to be intent on a retail Tiger purchase, however — everyone asked said they had already ordered the software online. "I just want to look around, really," said Chu.
Theoretically, Tiger might never arrive in the post, if a company called Tiger Direct succeeds in getting a preliminary injunction against OS X 10.4 in a hearing in Florida next Tuesday. The Apple faithful were not concerned, however.
"There was the same kind of trademark-infringement controversy when OS 9 came out, and they just shipped it anyway," said one of those waiting, a Mac user from London.
Another of those in line, who described himself as a content creator, said he paid to be one of the original beta-testers for the first version of OS X, and has his collection of boxes from OS X's annual releases lined up at home. "I was disappointed when I got the educational version of Jaguar through my mom, and they shipped it without a box," he said.
The queue attracted the attention of a number of passers-by. "I think it's something to do with computers," one said.
While Apple isn't planning to sell mystery bags of hardware and software this time — one of the major draws of the Regent Street opening, since some contained laptops, iPods and the like, for greatly reduced prices — shoppers will have a chance to win gear such as a PowerBook G4, an iPod Shuffle, Apple software, iTunes music and other gear. Free T-shirts are also on offer. The shop is open until midnight on Friday.
Taking an early peek at Apple's second European store