Is the new Covent Garden store actually that different from any other Apple emporium, or is it just bigger?
So that’s it. Lucky Londoners have another Apple shrine at which to worship and this one is bigger (well, actually, it’s the biggest) and better than anything that cult followers will have encountered previously. And before you read any further, a quick disclaimer about what follows. Your columnist is an ardent Apple admirer - everything that the producer of winsome gadgets offers is worthy of consideration, envy and even perhaps a degree of lust.
All well and good, but is the new Covent Garden store, which has already generated large numbers of column inches, actually that different from any other Apple emporium, or is it just bigger? Wander in and initially the familiar hits you far more than the unfamiliar. The slick, plain wood tables, the serried ranks of beautiful laptops, the iPods, the iPhones, you’ve seen it all before and there is a sense of reassurance.
The thing is, it’s not new and what makes this store different from other Apple branches is not the displays, the fittings and fixtures or the graphics package: it’s the building. And in this lies the big idea underpinning the largest Apple stores. This is a computer company that has realised that as long as you have a good-looking store-fit you can go on refining until you’re blue in the face, but there’s really very little point. What matters is whether the structure that houses everything is worthy of comment.
It should be said at this point that there are two kinds of Apple stores. There are the firm’s Apple by numbers outlets as see in increasing numbers of shopping centres across the UK and almost anywhere else you might care to mention. These are good looking and there is a consistency of delivery that ensures that whether you’re in San Francisco or the Manchester Arndale, you’ll have pretty much the same experience.
Then there are the bigger ones - and London now has two. These may be the same, but Apple has the wisdom to realise that if you are going to be bigger, then scale alone isn’t really enough: there has to be a statement made. For this reason, the Covent Garden store is praiseworthy. If you’d been asked a few years ago whether there was a space for the world’s largest Apple store on the Piazza, the answer might have been no. And yet here it is, and Covent Garden really is a rather better place for it.