Inside the Apple Store

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Most of the hundreds of Mac users waiting outside Apple's stores in Glendale, California, and McLean, Virginia, before the stores' May grand opening shared a common sentiment: It's about time. The way they see it, the stores finally give them a place to grab the latest Apple merchandise, load up on software and accessories, and obtain help from experts.

That's great, as far as Apple is concerned. But the company isn't planning to open 25 stores across the United States this year just to preach to the converted.

Not that Apple doesn't want established Mac users to flock to its stores, cash in hand, ready to buy every last iBook and Power Mac in stock. But Apple's new retail strategy includes using the stores as a way to reach other computer buyers--that 95 percent who don't even consider a Mac when it's time for them to buy new hardware. By giving these shoppers a place where they can get their hands on its products, Apple hopes to convince new customers that Macs are much more than just an assortment of brightly colored, translucent boxes.

So what awaits Mac users and new customers when they visit the local Apple store? Based on the first two stores in Glendale and McLean, here is what to expect once you get inside.

The Apple Store-Section by Section

The front section features every hardware product Apple makes. It's split into areas for professional and home users, to make it easy for shoppers to find the right Mac.

Taking up the middle of the store--or the spine, as its designer calls it--are shelves loaded with tech-support books and more than 300 Mac-compatible applications.

The Solutions areas showcase what you can do with a Mac. Shoppers can play with iMovie or look at digital cameras and camcorders from leading manufacturers.

This counter in the rear of the store is staffed by Apple-trained tech people who can answer shoppers' questions and troubleshoot. And each store has a red phone with a direct line to Apple tech support in Cupertino, in case someone stumps the Apple Genius.

A 10-foot screen hangs on the back wall. Look there for product demos, how-to sessions, and other in-store events.

Macs with iTunes and CD-RW drives are available so shoppers can try their hands at burning a CD. This section also has an assortment of third-party MP3 players. iMacs on a low table allow young kids to try out the latest in games and educational software.

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The back corner features a selection of Mac peripherals and other accessories, such as printers, cables, scanners, and other tools.

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