Last week Steve Jobs made the claim that iPad sales would not have been as strong if Apple had not had the network of retail stores. This is absolutely true, yet it is only half the story.
Apple Stores offer a unique retail environment but they are also becoming a social focus and a university for people all ages, including new computer users and Windows switchers.
Learning and fun
Today I visited London's flagship Covent Garden store and found that much of the floor area is given over to workshops, one-on-one instruction and small workgroups. The number of older people was surprising. Here was a hubbub of intelligent chatter and an atmosphere of learning and fun.
Who can put a value on this sort of activity and where else can you find it other than in an Apple Store? Buy any other make of computer and you are out of the door and on your own from the minute you've picked up your credit card. And as for easy training or instant after-sales support, just forget it.
If Apple Stores were churches the elders would be mighty pleased. What Windows user or computer sceptic can fail to be impressed when entering an Apple Store? I am convinced that the conversion rate is sky high.
All this is part of the new Apple brand image and the creation of a feeling of social inclusion. Buy an Apple product and you are instantly a member of Apple's magic circle. It is an image that sets Apple apart and one that creates an aspirational culture other tech brands can only dream of.