How Will the iPad Change the Apple Stores?

A few weeks ago, Apple decided to start taking pre-orders for its widely anticipated iPad. It’s one of those devices that, if successful, will redefine the computing landscape — much like its lil’ cousin, the iPhone. But there is an equal chance that the world may not be impressed with its brilliance.

Given how excited I’ve been about the device, many of my friends (and colleagues) are wondering why I didn’t order one. The answer is pretty simple: I want to write about the iPad launch from the point of view of a retail buyer. I plan to head over to the Apple store in San Francisco’s Union Square area on Saturday, stand in a line and see if I can actually get my hands on one that way.

Though what I really want to see is how Apple re-organizes its retail experience to fit the iPad. Right now, when you walk into a typical Apple store in the U.S., you get a pretty binary experience: Macs on one side of the store and iPhone/iPods on the other. Apple has used this clear demarcation of its two major product lines — computers and entertainment devices — to create a brilliant retail experience.

And soon it will add to the mix the iPad — which is not quite an iPhone and, well, definitely not a computer. So on which side of the aisle will Apple put this device? I think the retail display will pretty much define into which category the iPad falls. I’m hoping that it redesigns the stores entirely, carving out a whole new space for the iPad.

If it were up to me, I’d line up a single row of iPads, with their front and backs alternating. They’d be mounted on a transparent stand, so that from a distance it would look as though they (iPads) were floating in the air. Wishful thinking on my part, I know!

Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty expects Apple to ship more than 6 million iPads this year, much higher than the consensus expectation of 3-4 million. She expects 2.5 million iPads to ship between March and May and about 750,000 more during the June quarter. Huberty points out that iPad suppliers are estimating that Apple will make between 8 and 10 million of these devices. She believes that a million iPads would mean about 25 extra cents a share in earnings for Apple.

I think Huberty might be underestimating the money-making potential of the iPad. Having played around with it for a whole 20 minutes, I can tell you that this device will make you spend money on content — apps or books or music or whatever — much more often than the iPhone, even though there will be a fewer iPads on the market. Given that Apple takes roughly 30 percent cut of sales, it could be another¬†bonanza¬†in the making for Apple.

Now back to waiting for the weekend!

Photos of Apple Store, Fifth Avenue, New York Courtesy of Apple Inc.

This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com

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