I remember staggering around Chongqing's city center in a sweaty daze back in mid-2008, just before the Olympics, when suddenly an energetic young man popped out of the shrubbery to say hello. His hair flew away from his face in an arc that ended in sharp ebony strands standing to attention while every part of me sagged under the heat. His clothes were clean and sparkling and he had the hip glasses—black rims, no lenses—that made him a member of the exclusive "in the know" tribe.
"Hey man, check this out!" and he whipped out an iPhone and started playing with it right there in front of me. I woke up immediately and watched as he expertly brought up several applications and then flipped the device on its side to show me pictures of his super hot girlfriend. "You got one?"
He said it the way one tribe member asks another if he brought his ID along with him, but all I could do was shake my head and flash a wan smile. I showed him my Nokia from 1943 and he dismissed it with an incredulous blink and then said, "Dude. You can get these so easily in America—I had to have my friend ship one and then search for a place to crack it..."
He walked away stunned and disappointed and that's how that encounter ended.
Since then, a lot has changed as Apple's ultra-hip collection of iStuff has captured the Chinese imagination as swiftly and as completely as any official edict ever could. Today, the Apple store in Shanghai boasts the most products of any other Apple store in the world (including the new iPhone 4) and things are still in the early phase.
The Apple store in Shanghai is the work of a genius. The transparent entrance, although beautiful, is understated and easy to miss amidst all of the glass and concrete rising around it, while the simple, white Apple logo is demure when seen against the bulbous, purple belly of the Pearl Tower. It's a temple, and even if you do not know this new god, you feel like you should.
Walk down the stairs and the first thing you see is a blue glow reflecting off of the spare, clean wood of the benches and tables below and just barely reaching to the glass of the stairwell. Inside people sit at smooth tables and listen to acolytes explain how to use an iPhone. Newbies follow staff around from one wonder to the next while people who have actually used Macs before get lost in the choices and end up just standing there for hours, surfing, listening, clicking ...
A little girl flipped through slideshows while an old boss and his secretary watched.
"I have never spent RMB20,000 on a computer before," he said with diminishing force. "But this..."
He caressed the huge screen and when the little girl looked over her shoulder at him there was a flash of subliminal communication. Then the old boss turned to his secretary and I swear he looked like a zealot when he said:
"Okay, pack it up. I gotta have it."
I remember that feeling all too well ... that thrill of excitement and discovery when I played with my first Mac. It must have been 2003 or 2004, so I entered quite late in the game, but I felt amazed that such a beautiful computer existed, impatient to learn all of the wonderful things it could do and slightly ashamed that I had not known of it earlier.
This mix of emotions led me to buy a used Macbook Pro Titanium for USD 700 the very same day. I had never spent more than a couple hundred bucks on a computer before and they had always seemed to be just humming hulks that gathered dust and allowed me to send email and write documents. Never before had I actually felt like I was in the middle of a technological upheaval; not until I played with my new Mac could I begin to envision a computerized future in real life that resembled some of the more fantastic images from sci-fi films and literature.
Apple faces stiff competition from local and international players in China, but so far their strategy—creating a temple for the growing number of Chinese hipsters—appears to be working here in Shanghai just as it has everywhere else they've opened a store.
For more pictures and information about Shanghai's first Apple store, check out Shanghaiist's reports here, or Crunchgear.com's article here.
The store is located just off of the Lujiazui Metro station, underneath the IFC Tower and the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in Pudong; hours are 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily.