Just in time for the holidays, after launching sales and support for the iPhone at Best Buy and Walmart back in June, Apple is officially going mainstream when it arrives at Target stores on November 7. Consumers will be able to purchase both the iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS at any of the department store chains' 846 stores. With such a major merchandising change-up like this, does Apple run the risk of losing some of its mystique and exclusivity by going mainstream?
According to the formal announcement, senior vice president of merchandising, Mark Schindele doesn't seem to think so. He dismisses the concern that Apple fanboys and fangirls might have in reluctantly purchasing an Apple iPhone outside of an official Apple store where sales clerks have been known to possess keen product knowledge about their merchandise. "With expert support from Target Mobile specialists and in-store activation, our guests will be able to leave the store with a new, working iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4 in-hand."
In addition to receiving the latest cell phones, accessories and data plans at Target Mobile centers, consumers can utilize Target's Electronics Trade-In service which will allow them to trade-in used cell phones, MP3 players, video games and more for credit towards any purchase at Target. The retailer already offers iPads at its stores, so the addition of iPhones does not come as a huge surprise.
But what's really at the crux of Apple's decision to go mainstream is based purely on economics. With Android and RIM's Blacberrys eating up more and more of the smartphone marketshare, it was only a matter of time before Apple broke out of its mold and broadened its market reach for consumers who frequent Target stores regularly, but might never shop at an Apple store.
According to a ComScore report in July, while RIM leads the market with 42.1 percent, Apple came in second with 25.4 percent, However, Google's Androids at 9 percent was the only smartphone product showing an increase from February to May, 2010 of 4 percent. Both Apple and RIM lost ground during the same time period.
Smartphone marketshare by ComScore
Perhaps Apple stores will maintain some of its caché when new iPhones are first launched. In those instances, the hype of the release date usually causes a frenzy as people actually start queuing up a day in advance to be one of the first to purchase the next iteration (see my previous post, "Rent Tent, Be First To Purchase iPhone 4G & Live To Tweet & Ustream About It").
While rumors of the iPhone 5 are yet to be confirmed by Apple, reports are circulating - that when it does - its major new feature will be the ability to access a user's full Mac data from their home computers to their smartphone. Apparently, by 'waving' one's device at a Near Field Technology (NFC)-supported Mac computer when not at home, the iPhone 5 will bring up all of one's personal data.
So, there's no doubt, Apple will continue to astound us going forward. Broadening its sales reach via retail stores outside of the confines of its own brick and mortar stores in the long run is probably its best competitive move.
But I'm sure they'll be saving all those neat new bells and whistles for true Apple fans that require the full Apple treatment that can only be received in one of their stores - either in the physical world or online.