The Limited Edition U2 iPod made its European debut this weekend. The black and red player – with the signatures of the Dublin-based band engraved on its rear – took its bow in the Apple retail store in Regent House on London’s prestigious Regent Street. The London store is the first such store in Europe and Apple’s 99th worldwide.
Speaking at a press preview before the store’s official Saturday opening, Ron Johnson, Apple’s vice-president for retail, promised that every model of iPod would be in stock on Saturday morning but joked that he couldn’t guarantee availability later that afternoon. Since its launch in 2001, the iPod has become the world’s most popular portable music player with a total of more than six million units shipped, a third of them shipped in the past three months.
In addition to stocking the iPod and more than 150 related products, the store also sells every Apple product and accessory as well as selected third-party products such as digital cameras and camcorders, printers, and software. The store also provides face-to-face technical support through its Genius Bar and advice on how to use Apple’s iLife products to best advantage through its Studio. A 64-seat theatre is the venue for presentations and Apple already has a detailed programme of events planned between now and the end of the year.
Each of the store openings to date have been major events attracting many visitors. Johnson promised a special commemorative T-shirt for the first 1,500 visitors; in addition, the store would be offering a limited number of ‘lucky bags’ for £250 sterling but which would contain goods worth at least £700 sterling. He declined to comment on future plans for Apple Stores in Europe but confirmed that the next two Apple Stores in the UK would open in Birmignham and Kent during 2005.
Mark Rogers, general manager of Apple UK, pointed out that Irish Apple shoppers are better served than ever before despite the recent closure of Compustore. He pointed out that O2, Spectra and 3G all sell Apple products through its shops in Dublin and 3G has recently opened a shop in Cork. In addition, Compub has opened a retail shop Limerick to complement its online and mail order operation.
The opening of the Apple Store was timed to coincide with the annual MacExpo at the Business Design Centre in Islington. Now in its fifth year the expo welcomed a record 7,200 visitors on its first day. Demonstration events at Apple and Microsoft stands were full.
Microsoft took the opportunity to give the latest version of Virtual PC a public outing. Melissa Dewick, product marketing manager for Microsoft UK’s consumer software home and entertainment division, reported strong interest in the product which the company acquired from Connectix two years ago. “We see Virtual PC as a bridge between the Mac and PC worlds,” she said. “For instance, people ask us if we plan to do Access for the Mac, but it’s really not justified. Virtual PC is not a substitute for a Pentium PC but it does allow Mac users to run the pieces of PC software they occasionally need.”
Dewick reaffirmed Microsoft’s commitment to the Mac platform. “We are very proud of the current release of Office for Macintosh and we are already working on the next version,” she said. While she declined to give a firm date for the launch of the next version, she said that it takes about 24 months for users to start looking for a new version. “There are other factors in the timing. We are committed to compatibility with the latest versions of Office for Windows so while the development schedules are not linked they are dependent on one another.”
Other exhibitors included Epson, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Adobe. Adobe’s efforts were focused on the recently announced Acrobat 7. The company has promised to release the revised version of its document management software by the end of the year. As always, the package will consist of a free reader which, in this version, will include reviewing capability. Acrobat 7 will be based on Adobe’s Intelligent Document Platform that combines PDF with extensible markup language.
Acrobat 7 was one of several Best of Show Winners given to products either making their public debut at MacExpo or recently introduced and generating excitement on the show floor. Other winners included the iPod photo from Apple, HP’s Photosmart 375 Compact Photo Printer, Microsoft’s Virtual PC and Epson’s P-2000 Multimedia Storage Viewer.
By David Stewart