With just 24 shopping days left until Christmas, Apple has put down the hammers, swept up the sawdust and unveiled version 2.0 of its flagship store on London's Regent Street. It's still a shrine to all things Mac and iPod, and it's still all glass and pine and concrete, but the first floor is much bigger than it used to be -- allowing the Regent Street store to regain its rightful position as the largest Apple Store in the World.
Apple has warped time and space (and pushed back into a storage area) to bring you a new iPod Bar, a second Studio area for workshops and a lot more opportunities to touch and covet. There's also a new EasyPay system that lets you hand over your money without queuing.
The ground floor is much as it has always been, with displays of Macs and iPods that you can poke, prod and play with. The only real change is at the back, where the cash-and-wrap area has been split in two and rearranged along the sides.
Moving the tills has made space for a great glass elevator that uplifts the faithful to the revamped first floor. It starts from the back wall of the ground floor...
...and by some complicated spatial magic, raises you up into a glass box in the middle of the first floor. The Genius Bar is on the left, with the new iPod Bar directly opposite. Once you've confessed your problems, you can wander back through the display of Macs to the theatre, where you can watch software demonstrations and find out how designers, photographers, architects and other creative professionals make use of their Macs.
The Genius Bar provides tech support for troubled Macs and their unhappy owners, while the iPod Bar lets you sit down with a trained expert who can lay hands on your sick iPod, help you master its interface or explain how to use iTunes.
The iPod sales area has also been expanded. Podcessories are displayed in serried ranks along the wall, rather than being crammed into the bottom of the display stands, so it's easier to choose a case, a cable or a dock.
Best of all, you can now pluck an iPod off the shelves and pay for it immediately using the new EasyPay system. Apple Store employees can now take your money anywhere in the store using one of these handheld transaction units. They will also email your receipt so you don't lose it on the way home.
The doors opened on the revamped store at 10:00am on Friday 1 December, to whoops, cheers and applause from the red-shirted employees. To find out more about special events and extended shopping hours during the run-up to Christmas, visit the Apple Store, Regent Street section of the Apple Web site. -ML