Context is critically important to us whenever we arrive in a city to cover an event. As we write today, at the start of another hot, humid Summer day in New York City, the context is an inescapable sense that Apple has conquered Manhattan. As visitors rather than residents, we don’t say that lightly: having made visits here at various points in time—including when the iPod was surging, and then again as the iPhone was only beginning to gather steam—we couldn’t help but be amazed by the extent to which the company’s products are now being used everywhere. Put aside the iPhones, which are now so conspicuous that they seem to represent half of all phones we’ve seen people using, and 75% or 80% of smartphones. Hardly an hour passes between sightings of people carrying or using iPads here—on the subway, walking on the streets, or sitting down in a restaurant.
The proliferation of the iPad is actually staggering. At three of Apple’s flagship New York City stores—the new Upper West Side location, as well as the Soho and Fifth Avenue shops—tables are filled early and late in the day with people receiving Personal Setup assistance, multiple iPad 2s unboxed simultaneously as older and younger people alike are taking possession of their new tablets. We overhear an Apple employee being asked by a senior citizen whether he’d be better off with an iPad 2 or a more expensive MacBook. “If the iPad can do everything you need, go with it,” the Apple Specialist responds. It’s one of those non-commissioned sales moments that seems to be repeating itself all over the Store, the city, and the world. Apple is seemingly thrilled to be selling tablets, even when they’re far from the most expensive items on its show floors.
Consequently, iPads keep showing up in unexpected places. One is tucked inside a leather-bound book-style case at Per Se, serving as the digital wine list—using iBooks. Others are in clear and opaque cases at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, providing a multimedia tour to guide patrons around the otherwise dramatically undermarked collection of heirloom jewelry; you’re actually at a disadvantage if you’re not using the iPad to navigate the ornate early-20th Century broaches, necklaces, and cigarette cases.
It has come to the point where other solutions almost seem out of place. At the Guggenheim Museum, a woman stands at the door surveying attendees, holding an oversized previous-generation PC tablet that stands in complete contrast to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed curves of the famous gallery. And within the aforementioned National Design Museum, a Windows-based touchscreen device is being used to let people flip through the pages of a 1930’s jewelry book that was digitized. When we arrive at the book, there is—seriously—a Norton Antivirus dialog box on the screen, interrupting what otherwise looks just like a larger-screened version of the iBooks application.
There’s more to these stories—and plenty of other examples of what’s happening here. Stores throughout Times Square now have Apple’s computers and iPads advertised with eye-grabbing price tags as tourist lures. Even without an Apple device in sight, MoMA’s design store features Griffin and Chilewich iPhone cases alongside Geneva Lab’s Model S for iPods and iPhones, as well as iPad stands and other examples of modern accessory design.
Manhattan is, in many ways, a great place for companies to debut the next generation of Apple accessories—a prime reason that we’re looking forward to seeing upcoming new technologies at CE Week’s CEA Line Shows over the next couple of days. Of course, Apple as a company will be nowhere to be found, as it no longer officially exhibits at trade shows. But its presence is and will be felt everywhere here, with enthusiastic fans and an increasing retail presence providing the closest thing it has to home turf away from its Cupertino home. Its products and stores have become so ubiquitous that perhaps a quarter of the companies at this show will be showing accessories that rely upon iPods, iPhones, iPads, or Macs. iLounge will be covering them all and bringing the best of them to your attention in subsequent articles.