Over the past several years, we’ve published a series of feature-length international iPod reports from major cities outside of the United States; this week, we wanted to turn the camera on a major domestic destination—New York City—in a slightly less formal way. Though I spent most of Friday meeting with investors there, I took the time to visit all of the local Apple Stores and, of course, do some iPod- and iPhonespotting around the city. Without question, New York City has the highest saturation of iPods and iPhones of any place (yes, any place) we’ve seen. Even San Francisco and Tokyo, which are both impressive but short of saturation, don’t hold a candle to Manhattan.
Click on the headline for a little taste of what’s there.
Apple Store Fifth Avenue
You probably know everything about Apple’s flagship, landmark store already: it’s the city’s second Apple store, but unquestionably its most impressive; a subterranean lair for iPod, iPhone, and Mac fans to congregate, try out Apple products, and buy stuff. A massive metal-framed class cube on Fifth Avenue welcomes visitors 24 hours a day, with a glowing Apple logo suspended above a glass tube elevator and a spiral staircase to the shopping floor below.
The crowd on a Thursday night was impressive, but not crazy. Given the sheer size of the single-floor store, you’d expect that the room would look empty, yet it didn’t: there was just enough room to comfortably walk around, and plenty of places where you could access the many iPods, iPhones, and Macs on display, as well as the Genius and iPod Bars for technical support. Lots of people were there for support. Interestingly, the Fifth Avenue store had lots of merchandise to sell, but it wasn’t markedly different from the inventory in most of the other Apple Stores we’ve seen—there were just more racks of it.
Apple Store SoHo
Apple’s first New York City store may be the smallest of the three, and it may also be the least unique visually by comparison with the company’s other stores, but it does have advantages. Designed to blend in with surrounding exterior architecture, the SoHo store’s interior has all the modern wood, metal, and glass touches found in other multi-floor Apple Stores, including an attractive glass staircase, plenty of room for hands-on iPod, iPhone, and Mac use, and a Genius Bar for technical support.
Most interesting in the store is its second-floor theater, which this week hosted separate performances—and recording sessions—by rock bands Linkin Park and Maroon 5, the first in what are reported to be a series of live U.S. performances from major artists intended to be resold through the iTunes Store. Unlike the theater in Apple’s Ginza store, which occupies its own elevator-accessed floor, this theater is contiguous with the SoHo store’s Genius Bar and accessory area, and primarily used for quieter product demonstrations and tutorials during the store’s open hours.
Apple Store West 14th Street
The largest but least glamorous of the stores is the West 14th Street location in the city’s Meatpacking District, a sprawling three-floor shop that looks like it could have housed floors of garment workers before receiving more modern retail tenants. Topped by a huge iPod billboard but otherwise visually consistent with industrial parts of the neighborhood, you can’t tell for sure that it’s an Apple Store until you get close enough to see the spiral staircase and small, dangling Apple logo plates near the doors. Inside, the floor space provides plenty of room for Macs (first floor), iPods and Apple TV (second floor), and technical support (third floor), as well as corresponding accessories scattered throughout.
West 14th Street’s presentation, interior and exterior, was the least interesting of the bunch: it felt as if Apple had taken an old factory or warehouse and loaded it up with as many products as it could neatly fit on the floors. We visited on a Friday night and the store wasn’t exactly packed, but interestingly, there was someone from Shure on the floor helping people test and fit in-canal earphones—a smart way to introduce people to better listening options. That aside, this wouldn’t be the first NYC Apple Store we’d pick to visit again; it seems like it was designed to appeal to people seeking Apple-related training and services, and perhaps a less crowded environment.
A Few Other Notes
As noted above, New York City is unquestionably iPod + iPhone Central. There’s no other place where so many people are carrying and using Apple’s pocket products at a given time, and we’ve never seen such a high ratio of video-ready iPods, either: 6 or 7 out of every 10 people seemed to be carrying 5G iPods, classics, or iPhones, and it was all but impossible to avoid seeing them on the streets, subways, in stores, and hotels. iPhones were in almost shocking abundance, though almost invariably carried by people aged 20 or older, and not by younger users, or those older than 50. That said, we saw relatively few classics, only one touch, and a couple of shuffles, old and new; there were plenty of nanos (particularly first- and second-generation ones), as well. iPod users spanned all demographics we could see, except for the older crowd, who never seemed to be using them in public.
For kicks, we took an impromptu trip to MoMA to see whether any Apple products were on display in their design galleries—we didn’t see any. Instead, there were toys from Kidrobot and 2003 cell phones from Japanese cellular network KDDI. The closest related product we saw was V-Moda’s Bass Freq, which was being sold at MoMA’s design store, not displayed in the galleries.
iPod ads were all over the city—billboards and subway entrance placards were at plenty of major sites. Mac ads, at least for the MacBook Air, were occasionally visible as well.
One big surprise: even on our visits to Canal Street, notorious for its sales of knock-off luxury goods, and nearby Chinatown, we saw zero evidence of counterfeit Apple products—a huge, impossible to overstate difference between New York City and many of the cities we’ve featured in past international reports. Is it the city’s police presence?
Hard to believe: the Canal Street vendors were operating in full force during our visit, hawking clones of Tiffany jewelry and Dolce & Gabbana bags in open sight, with hidden rooms full of Gucci, Chanel, Coach, and Louis Vuitton gear behind their main showrooms. But they weren’t selling counterfeit iPods, and we never saw such things in stores or in users’ hands. Sure, a few street vendors were selling junky cases, chargers, and other cheap iPod accessories from hastily-assembled tables, and we did see a few shops offering iPhone unlocking services, yet Apple appears to have secured something better than just city police cooperation in keeping the iPod knock-offs out: stronger federal-level blocking of clone imports, and better yet, such reasonable pricing and distribution that people of all stripes can easily buy the real things instead. We can only hope that other countries get the same opportunities, as well.