Short Take: We Have an AirPort in Our Mall; So Should You

Hairbrained Marketing Idea #847

In my dreams I fly.

I soar unfettered and serene, laughing at gravity and at care. The clouds embrace me as a friend and the wind lazily tousles my hair. I lose myself in the sun and sky.

And then the noise... the harsh, insistent jangle that shreds my peace...that drags me back to earth once more...

The alarm clock...

"Astro City" by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson and Alex Ross

One of my favorite, most-recent pastimes is to go to the Mall of America and surf the web from a first-floor café.

For the uninitiated, the Mall of America is one of the worldis largest in-door malls [thanks, Troy... Rodney], of which the Apple Store is one of its newest tenants. Donit get me wrong; I donit shop there; itis a tourist trap. Just like people who live in Las Vegas probably donit gamble, many Minnesotans probably donit go to the Mall of America -- we leave it to the out-of-town rubes. For now, though, Iim making an exception.

A few days before Xmas, I bought a new $1699 iBook from the Mall of America Apple Store. A couple of weeks later, I went to the Mall to check out some accessories and software. While I was there, I noticed that there was a café not two stores east of the Apple Store. Since I have an AirPort card in my laptop, I decided to sit down and partake of the free wireless network that Apple has so generously provided for the store and for the rest of us who have computers equipped with 802.11a compliant networking (wireless networking). I opened my laptop and checked to see if my Mac automatically picks up the Apple network: I clicked the OmniWeb icon in my Dock, and my home page loaded onto the screen.

Now teenagers arenit the only ones hanging out at the Mall. Whenever I want to get out of the house -- but donit want to give up my connection to email and web access -- I get to have my cake and eat it, too.

Once again, Apple is the first to do something at which the rest of the industry will follow suit. This time, it may not be the computer industry. As is the case with many of Appleis products, I canit help but ask: why didnit someone think of this before? And why arenit they marketing the hell out of it?

Iim referring to the idea of being able to surf the web wirelessly from a public location. Sure, this has been done to certain extents with wired network connections. For example, a couple of years ago, I spent much of my free time near the University of Minnesota campus at a café named Crazy Carrot, where Iid sip one of those hippy juices while I checked my email en route to wherever I happened to be going that day. (Starbuckis is supposedly doing this, too.)

The problem there is that I had to open my TCP/IP control panel, change my settings, etc., etc. But at the Mall of America, all I did was open my laptop and began to surf. The ease-of-use factor in AirPort conectivity is what should have sparked an explosion of shops, bars, restaurants and stores with free wireless access. Once again, Apple is failing miserably to promote one of its more cut-above-the-rest distinctives.

Apple has two ways that the company should promote AirPort: 1) open more stores, so that even more people can have the ability to surf while they shop... or munch, or chat or drink or 2) create some marketing promotion where a Mac and AirPort Base Station are given to targeted businesses in key areas like malls and shopping centers. Encourage or subsidize a broadband connection for internet access, and Apple will in one fell swoop promote the "digital lifestyle" more than any iProduct could.

Each AirPorted establishment could feature some sign that says something like "We have Appleis AirPort. Fly on in and check your email." That would go way beyond those "cyber cafés" that charge you an exorbitant fee to surf their dial-up connection. With the growing number of PCs that are moving towards 802.11 networking, Apple can become synonymous with wireless internet -- at least for the web-savvy mall rats, now that AirPort is advertised as a Mac AND a PC solution.

Besides, if Apple doesnit aggressively pursue this, there will remain another chance for Dell to say it is the innovator and trendsetter in wireless networking -- just like the company claimed to be the first to market with wireless-capable mobile computing -- some time after Apple.


Rodney O. Lain is always trying to mooch a free broadband connection. When he isnit complaining about the speed of the Mall of America downloads, he writes his iBrotha column for The Mac Observer, as well as the occasional editorial. Rodney lives in Minnesota, where he is an IT supervisor for The Man at a Fortune 50 company.