'Wanna buy an iPod, guv?': London becomes big Apple

Mac fans get Regents treat with massive store opening

Mac fans get Regents treat with massive store opening

Apple's first UK store will open this Saturday on London's Regent Street - and silicon.com got to take a sneaky peek before the doors open to punters.

Apple's 99th store - with its largest single retail space to date - takes up two floors in the heart of W1, with 15 cash registers, a 64-seat theatre and 138 staff who speak 24 languages. The technology for consumers to play with in store will also be available in numbers - 60 Macs and 77 iPods, including the most recent additions, the iPod Photo and U2 iPod, will be connected up in store.

As well as flogging Apple's own wares, the store will offer all sorts of Mac and iPod accessories and third party products - some 500 software titles and over 150 iPod goodies will be on offer.

Don't bet your house on getting your hands on the iPod of your choice, though. The newest iPods have yet to arrive but are promised to turn up before Saturday. The mini may be more of a problem - senior VP of retail Ron Johnson said: "We can't predict if it will keep in stock but we'll do our darndest... We hope to have enough iPods in stock but we can't guarantee [it]."

Hardened Mac fans and new converts alike will also be able to swot up at the London shop. Free workshops will be run in the theatre on a daily basis and for anyone wanting to "go deep", as Johnson put it, there are special classes on a variety of subjects in the Studio Training Centres - from getting started on the Mac to advanced DVD and video editing.

Click the 'next page' link below for more on Apple's London store and exclusive pics.


Apple's Windows

The store will also feature Apple's very own Genius Bar - a collection of multilingual Mac brains whose job is to answer questions on Apple products. Punters can also get their Apple tech fixed for free - the average turnaround time for a broken Mac is two days.

London's Genius Bar will be the biggest in any Apple store to date with 20 seats. Rob Stearn, one of Apple's Geniuses, used to be IT manager for a record label and, along with fellow UK Geniuses, was flown out to Apple's Cupertino headquarters for training and did a brief stint as a San Franciscan Genius.

Stearn said: "I've been a Mac user for many years. Mac users like to talk to other Mac users - they like to have a community."

So Apple's giving away free support - what's in for Jobs and co? According to Johnson, as well as the 24 languages between them, the Genius crew all speak Windows. "It's reaching out to PC users - to switch to Mac," he said.

For anyone jumping ship, the Geniuses will sort out the transition, moving data and configuring settings in store. "We ask users 'What do you do with Windows and what would you like to do?', They're amazed at how much simpler it is with a Mac [and] we show them the similarites [between the two operating systems]," Stearn said. The Genius Bar can also set up any custom add-ons - including adding wireless cards or extra memory - before shoppers take the machine home.

As well as the Genius Bar, the London store will also have a Studio area. It's a concept broadly similar to the Genius Bar but with creatives rather than techies on hand to resolve queries.

Johnson described it as: "face-to-face support for creativity", with 10 stools, staffed by people who "worked in the industry as movie makers, photographers" and the like, who can offer advice on subjects including how to tart up home movies with new music or better titles.


The official opening will be at 10am on 20 November. The store staff are gearing up for some considerably queuing - when Apple's first Japan shop opened, some Mac fans slept outside for two and a half days and, by the time the doors opened, the queue was three-quarters of a mile long.

The first 2,500 visitors to Regent Street will be rewarded with a commemorative T-shirt and some will be offered the chance to buy a Lucky Bag for £250, with contents - Apple and third party products - worth £700 or more. What 'or more' means is yet to be revealed but Johnson said some of Lucky Bags will "contain surprise items that up the value significantly".

Apple's retail stores brought in $1.2bn for Apple last year, with 51 million people dropping in to the shops worldwide. The folks over at Cupertino have opened a new retail shop every 13 days since the first store opened in May 2001.

And London isn't the only place Apple's got its eye on for shop space. Johnson revealed that there will be two more stores opening next year in the UK: one in Birmingham and one in the biggest shopping centre in the country - Bluewater in Kent.

Johnson also said there were more European stores planned but refused to give further details. "We clearly didn't come to Europe just for the UK," he said. "You'll have to stay tuned."