Reversal of fortunes at Apple and Microsoft
ONE OF the most curious – and telling – juxtapositions in Silicon Valley occurs, rather unexpectedly, in Palo Alto’s upscale Stanford Shopping Centre. Stroll about halfway down the lushly planted outdoor walkways and you come to what might just be the smallest Apple Store on the planet.
Here in the home territory of late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs sits a nano-sized Apple Store, about the square footage of the sitting room in a typical Dublin two-up, two-down. The only signage outside is the Apple logo, glowing on a white background.
Three narrow counters display the iconic product triumvirate of iPod, iPhone and iPad, as well as those tasteful matte aluminium laptops and iMacs. Squeezed along the back walls is a limited selection of software and accessories.
The shop is so small, they’ve eschewed a sales desk entirely. Instead, roving helpers run your transaction through a handheld device and deliver your purchase in a white Apple-logo carrier bag.
This mini Apple Store is almost always crowded but, at the weekend, it’s a retail sardine tin.
Turn right as you exit the store and directly alongside is a shopfront four or five times its size. This place, too, bears no name – only a symbol comprising four scribbled primary-coloured rectangles. Unless you’re a geek, you probably won’t recognise it as the latest redesign of the Microsoft Windows logo.
The shopfloor inside is vast, offering a huge array of devices that run on one or another form of the Windows operating system, appealingly displayed. People wander here and there, stopping to play with items that catch their eye. But in this gigantic space, there is not even half the number of prospective buyers that elbow around next door.
Microsoft certainly showed unabashed impudence in deciding that, out of all the retail space in the shopping centre, they would snag the slot alongside Apple.
And you can’t help but feel there’s also a deliberate show of might, a flaunting of floorspace that still accurately reflects the hyper-dominant market share for Windows – at least on fully fledged computers, where it still runs on about 85-90 per cent of machines (depending on your statistics source).
But the contrast between the modest patronage of the mammoth Windows store, the largest electronics shop in the shopping centre (larger too than Apple’s main store a stone’s throw away on University Avenue in Palo Alto proper), and its overstuffed little neighbour says everything about whose star is in the ascendant these days, and where the profits lie (in fewer products with vastly greater margins).