I’d planned to spend a couple of hours watching my son at the first Little League clinic of the season today, but turned out it wasn’t that kind of clinic — dads begone. Like all good gadgetistas, though, I had a few niggling unmet accessory needs to fill. So sprung for a couple of hours of invented time, I headed into Boston.
I have a new carry-everywhere camera, the mostly delightful Samsung NX 200. It’s a slightly odd size though, kind of a tweener, and doesn’t fit into any of my current camera bags. It’s lost in the Crumpler “Three Million Dollar Home” that holds my digital SLR and it’s a complete no go to squeeze into one of the smaller cases designed for point-and-shoots I have lying around. But it’s high time to get some protection. Already had a few freak-outs — once, I left the camera in a jacket pocket, dumped the jacket on the couch, then looked on in horror as one of the kids sat on it. No crunch, no foul, luckily.
After striking out wandering into a local camera store and a Radio Shack (right, what was I thinking?), I decided to see what Google thought. Quick search for “Crumpler cases Boston” via the trusty Galaxy Nexus came up with a 2008 list of recommendations on Metafilter. The obvious answer seemed to be Hunt’s Photo & Video.
Shopping karma was good. I zipped into the city only to find a free parking space on Comm Ave right in front of the store. Inside, there was a great variety of bags plus the kind of truly knowledgeable sales people that make shopping fun. I ended up with a perfect fit, the Crumpler Two Million Dollar Home, as it turned out, and bought a needed lens filter, too.
I needed a couple of bottles of wine for a dinner we’re hosting this weekend and Hunt’s happens to be right over a liquor store with a reasonable wine selection and another super-helpful sales person. Grabbed some Shiraz and a couple of Merlots to go with the incredible lamb dinner super wife, aka Whitney Connaughton, is cooking up and it was time to move on.
I was on such a shopping high, I decided to see if I could find cheap, on-street parking in the Newbury Street neighborhood, which includes the giant Back Bay Boston Apple store. Sure enough, the parking gods continued to smile upon me and I got a great space. Walking down Newbury Street, Yelp via Android advised the best caffeine refill is from Wired Puppy — and they’re correct as usual. A small cap and some fresh roasted beans later, I’m on my way in the spring drizzle, feeling like my shopping fu is so strong I cannot be defeated. The feeling doesn’t last long, unfortunately.
The second task was to get a new cover for our aged iPad2. My wife’s upgraded to an iPad (3rd Generation) and taken her leather smart cover and BRIGHT PINK Incase sleeve case — which they don’t even seem even to make anymore — with her to cutting-edge-gadget-land (where I assure you she’s just visitor not a long-time local like me). That’s left poor hand-me-down, kid toy iPad2 naked, vulnerable and smudgy.
I thought the obvious answer was just to go into an Apple Store. After all, they have an endless supply of iPhone and iPod cases. But, turned out, they’ve completely de-stocked iPad cases except their own smart cases at least at the big Boston store. I found that so hard to believe that even after one of the helpful blue shirts told me this information, I continued pawing the shelves in disbelief. Sure enough, they now have a vast and beautiful display of laptop cases, including many for the 11″ MacBook Air that would almost fit an iPad, but nothing else. Crazy. Ok, Apple, consider that at least $50 of my money you don’t get.
So what about the giant, three-floor Best Buy nearby? Almost as bad! A few choices of folio-type cases, a few hard covers for the screen and nothing. (Update: A few weeks after I wrote this post, Best Buy announced it was closing the Back Bay location. Not exactly a shocker.)
In desperation, I even wandered into the local Urban Outfitters. Cool stuff for cell phones, crazy-looking headphones and a few other tech-y items. But for the iPad? Nada.
I don’t think I’m being too picky. I don’t like the smart cover (at all!) and I’m looking for something that will protect the iPad on both sides from scratches, scrapes and even maybe a short drop. I’d also like to be able to squeeze the iPad with cover into the laptop pocket of my briefcase along with my Macbook, so the cover needs to be devoid of scratchability on the outside, too. Is it really so hard?
The answer will have to reside online, I guess. Etsy has a billion possibilities, as does Amazon. I’m just not so psyched to shop online for something I’ll be holding in my hands all the time. No tactile info comes through on my screen. And the search experience with the billion possibilities leaves much to be desired. I wish there were checkboxes or sliders that worked to filter the choices in real time by color, material etc., but it’s all just keywords and prices. (Postscript: I ended up going with this kind of boring black sleeve from an Etsy seller)
But the experience got me thinking. With so much available online, it’s getting harder and harder for retail stores out here in the real world. Borders, Circuit City, CompUSA — all long gone. Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, Gamestop — it feels like they’re just hanging on by a thread.
Apple’s doing fine but it’s such a banal and generic experience — there was almost no difference between the merchandise in the Apple store on Regent Street in London I perused last week and the one I visited today on Boylston Street in Boston. Of course, the computers and phones are the same, but even the range of bags and cases and other accessories was amazingly identical.
No one can deny that Apple has aced most of the winning strategies for succeeding at retail in the 21st Century but there’s one piece I positively ache for — a unique shopping experience — that they never give me. It’s just so damn generic. Is there room in the world of 2012 for a tech-y, nerdy store that stocks not computers and phones themselves but all the needed add-ons, goo-gahs and accessories? I want a focus on the high-end, the mega-high-end, the artsy, the unusual. If 40 or 50 million of us all have to carry around the identical iPad, the same phone, a common laptop, can we at least regain some style points or distinction via the case, the sleeve, the stickers, the wrapping, the externals and add-ons? And can someone smart and helpful curate a collection for sale of great accessories, the best, the lightest, the coolest, smallest, achingly brilliant ones that as soon as we see and touch we simply can’t do without? Must be a way.
What do you think?