Apple And Windows Go To France

The United States has invaded France!  …Sort of.

After much talk and a long time waiting, two American companies will open prominent locations in Paris, France.  Apple will debut a retail center for its vast array of iProducts, while Microsoft is opening a cafe in a temporary promotion for Windows 7.  No computers, just coffee and juice and similar fare.  The cafe, apropos, is named Windows.

Each company’s choice of locale for their merchant ventures says quite a bit about their target markets, and the image they seek for their brand.

The spot for Apple’s French retail debut is the marbled Carrousel du Louvre, a shopping center one level down from the famous art museum’s front courtyard.  Other stores in the Carrousel offer such expensive commodities as Swarovski crystal, designer watches, and boutique perfumes.  The clientele is largely tourists with plenty of travel money, and those locals willing to shop tourist sites for high-end gifts.

The most prominent feature of the Carrousel du Louvre is, of course, the inverted glass pyramid descending from the ceiling, which serves as a light well in the daytime.  I.M. Pai designed the pyramid as an upside-down twin to the pointy-side-up pyramid that serves as the Louvre’s primary entrance.  The two pyramids are linked by a corridor, giving the mall shoppers a subterranean entrance to the art museum.

The two levels and 700 square meters of Apple’s new terrain will be located in the prior location of the Food Court entrance, opening right off the main square.  Though there will be the Apple Store’s trademark Genius bar for technical advice, the days of apple pie have given way to the days of the Apple computer.

Beyond the accessibility to rich clientele, there is an added advantage to the store’s location.  The Carrousel, as a designated tourist area, is one of the few shopping locations in France that is not bound to the rigid restrictions on Sunday retailing.

Managers, experts on the products, and “personal shopping counselors” are still being sought by the store, whose windows remain blacked out against public peeking.  There is no official word from Apple about the store’s opening date, though it is promised by the end of 2009.  October 25th is the date being predicted by Apple’s fan sites.

Microsoft’s cafe venture embraces no such secrecy on its debut date.  The Windows 7 Cafe, like the software for which it is named, will be open to the public on October 22.  The date is loud and proud on the location’s front windows.

Windows 7 Cafe is in a less glamorous location than its non-cafe Apple counterpart.  47 Boulevard de Sebastopol, a raucous street squeezed between Rue Saint Denis’ red light district and the Beaubourg art museum, is the former home of Wet Willies.

Gone are the days of that Tex-Mex haven with its Jello shots and affordable mixed drinks.  The street is being slowly overrun with American concerns, with a KFC in one direction and a Starbucks in the other.  Between them, Milk’s orange facade tempts passers-by with its Internet Cafe on the lower floor, and the 200-plus PCs available there.

Though there is an oppressive level of auto traffic on the north-south street, the sidewalk is not very populated and several nearby stores are closed during the day.  Most of the minimal foot traffic are bound to and from the Metro stations.

It’s a completely different picture when the nights-and-weekends crowd come out to play.  The stores fling wide their doors, offering hip fashions and shoes, and teenagers invade in droves.

At this writing, the decor of the Windows 7 Cafe is a secret, save for its matte-black window frames and the green covering over the windows to dissuade peeping.  The workmen are still hard at their craft inside, with the floors and walls still unfinished and the utility systems still being installed.  Microsoft promises free Wi-Fi access at the cafe, but it too is as yet nonfunctional.

The cafe will offer fruity, non-alcoholic cocktails, and the most mood-altering drink is likely to be coffee.  Though Microsoft says that tech products will not be sold at the cafe, the services and software will be there to try out.  Visitors will be able to experience Windows Mobile, Windows Live, and Windows 7, among others, according to a spokeswoman.

Windows 7 Cafe will be only a temporary venture, open for a few months at the most, meant only as a promotional venture for its new products.  Microsoft’s storefront, however, looks like it will be here to stay.  Coming soon to American cities is a network of new retail locations similar to Apple’s stores.  Some reports say Microsoft is not just imitating Apple’s retail style, but recruiting their sales force as well.  Sincerest form of flattery, indeed.

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