An apple a day helps keep creative minds at play

15:50, July 22, 2010      

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The Western media had it wrong when they called the opening of China's second Apple Inc store this month just another new attraction for the country's wealthy classes.

I predict the new Apple store in Shanghai will go the way of the company's first store in China that opened in Beijing in 2008, becoming a daily playground for the poorer masses.

Like the store that opened at The Village at Sanlitun in Beijing, the Shanghai store also opened in a shopping district designed to attract high-end spenders.

In both cases, the openings attracted long lines of people of all backgrounds eager to be the first to see inside the high-tech structure, which should have been Shanghai's first clue that this was not just another Gucci outlet. It's an idea factory.

Two years after the opening of the Beijing store, crowds still gather daily to try out the gadgets inside. Most are not buying, but they're still eager to experience the kind of innovative thinking that led to the iPod, iPhone, iTunes and iPad.

Sure, there are some young expats wearing designer jeans inside, but they're standing side by side with Chinese workers in worn shirts and faded pants, and also Chinese school children of all ages dressed up and down. It's a diversity you can't find in any other store in Sanlitun.

The obvious attraction is that it's free. Children and adults play video games, while store staff members patiently stand by to answer the rare question about prices. It's a free Internet caf to check their email or surf websites at high speeds on Macintosh laptops. Grandmothers like to take pictures of their miniature tech-heads at play.

But I suspect it's also all about the Dao of Steve.

Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple, has followed a way, a path - whichever translation of Dao you prefer - that appeals to anyone tinkering at home with a new idea.

Steve Jobs can probably appreciate the mixed-up demographics at his company's Beijing store. Like the African-American who became president of the United States, Jobs has world roots, too, with a Syrian father and American mother. He didn't grow up wealthy, either. Jobs is the name of the family who adopted him after he was born in San Francisco, California.

There was no place back then like an Apple Store to visit after school, but Jobs often went to lectures at computer maker Hewlett-Packard, according to his biographies. He didn't buy anything, but he learned, eventually becoming a part-time HP employee. He liked playing video games, too, and later worked part-time for a video game company.

Jobs is a college drop-out, leaving school after only one semester because his working-class parents could not afford it, according to his speech to students at California's Stanford University in 2005.

But, while he was collecting cans and bottles to turn in for five cents each, which he needed to help support himself, he found a way to sit in on a college class on calligraphy, he told the students.

"It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating," Jobs told the students.

"If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows (the best-selling PC software) just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them," he was quoted as saying. So yes, I guess you can argue that Apple evolved with Chinese characteristics.

But the Dao of Steve also involves never giving up.

After the early years of Apple, he was ousted, but quickly started another computer company and also bought a computer graphics firm that would be called Pixar - the company that made animated movie hits like Toy Story and Finding Nemo. After Disney bought Pixar, Jobs returned to Apple to invent the i-line of products.

Meanwhile, China-based Lenovo in 2005 acquired the former US-based IBM PC maker of innovative notebook PCs like the ThinkPad.

So, is the next Lenovo superstar or Chinese version of Steve Jobs one of those young people crowding into the Apple Store in Beijing? Why not?

In a country that makes pieces and parts for Apple products and those of other technology companies, there is a new call for homegrown innovation. Certainly, visitors to the Apple Store in Beijing the last time I visited were expertly testing the latest computer software. Some looked as young as 10.

Apple has no big stake in China right now, and observers have been quoted saying that the company is unlikely to gain major market share. But his idea stores have arrived.

At the Shanghai store opening, Apple made a play on words by switching its traditional "Designed in California, made in China" tags for a promotional T-shirt that read: "Designed in California, made for China."

Maybe one day the next T-shirt from the next innovator like Steve Jobs will read: "Designed in China, made for California."

Source: China Daily/Agencies


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