Apple store now an Apple bore?

Apple stores have attracted critical reviews lately. Sales per square foot are down. But a visit to a store suggests that it's the lack of new products that makes for a tougher environment.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read
What else can Apple talk about? Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I'd heard Apple stores were in serious trouble.

According to the Wall Street Journal, they glow less brightly. The Atlantic adds: "It may be the end of the Apple store as we know it."

How had I missed this? Apple stores had always seemed the same to me -- so full of people that I don't really want to spend too long in there.

Could it be that by not launching something magical and revolutionary lately, this was an evil scheme to make the stores more pleasant to be in?

So on the way back from a slightly social Saturday night (and Sunday morning), I wandered into my local Apple store in Northern California just to see whether the walls were echoing with the sound of nothingness.

It was just before noon. It was three-quarters full of people. Yes, there was still space around the iPad minis. Few people were fondling iPhone 5s.

Otherwise, it was hubbub as usual. Save for the lack of a woman, a stroller and screaming (from the former, that is).

The Journal is worried that sales per square foot are down 4.5 percent this year. There is also the troubling notion that Apple hasn't had a retail head since John Browett was shown the door and not given another appointment.

But is it the design of the stores themselves that's the problem? Or is it more that Apple simply hasn't had anything new to offer lately?

Squeezing past the sweaty bodies in the store, the one thing that struck me as different were the walls.

Somehow, I had always felt that there were products featured there once. Now, it's a vast collage of what you can do on the products, rather than the machines themselves. It's a surprising barrage of color, in a place that always seemed a touch monochrome.

If you can't make them happy, make them appy. At least until September 10 (allegedly), when a new iPhone might be announced.

While criticism is allegedly swelling around the pace of innovation in Cupertino, you'd think competitors might work to create a truly different retail experience.

Yet, Microsoft stores, while trying to be at least a little different, were, I was told, designed by the same people who designed the Apple stores.

I wondered what the new AT&T stores might be like. Those who have been inside declare they're taken "straight from the Apple playbook."

Some will think that's not a bad thing. But it also puts inadvertent onus on Apple to think of something different now.

While many gadget makers didn't think a retail presence was worth it, Steve Jobs went off and dominated physical retail.

Now, even though Apple store's per-square-foot revenue is still the envy of all, the company is expected to not only find some new product categories -- hey, what time will that watch be here? -- but also re-create the notion of a high street gadget emporium.

It may well be that some people are both bored of Apple and of its store experience. That would be understandable. Consumers are as fickle as that snotty little boy king on "Game Of Thrones."

But there is rarely an easy path to retail success.

Leaving the Apple store, I wandered down the mall to see how the Microsoft store was doing.

A sign in the window made it clear that Redmond wanted to sell you a product. "Which Surface is right for you?" said a large poster.

There were very few people inside.

Not exactly full. Chris Matyszczyk/CNET
Appy now? Chris Matyszczyk/CNET