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Apple Embraces ‘Town Square’ Store Model

Apple is joining the host of retailers seeking to lure in consumers, and keep them there, by offering educational sessions for photography, music, coding and design. More than 60 sessions will be offered, Apple said, all taught by pros and ranging the gamut from beginner to advanced. All stores will receive mobile screens and showcase wall displays designed specifically for Today at Apple, as well as updated seating and sound. The programs, which will begin in May, will also help the company bring consumers deeper into its product ecosystem.

Our Take: While Apple’s effort will surely turn heads, other retailers — including B&H Photo, Adorama and Microsoft — have been doing this for years.

SiriusXM Acquires Automatic Labs

SiriusXM has acquired Automatic Labs, a provider of connected vehicle services. Automatic’s devices provide vehicle diagnostic alerts, emergency crash assistance, fuel monitoring, access to parking information, and live vehicle-location tracking, among other things. It also partners with insurance carriers for usage-based savings and teen driver coaching, and works with automotive dealers for inventory-management tools and customer service.

Our Take: This is a wise move for SiriusXM, which must look beyond its satellite-radio roots as Spotify and other music-streaming services become commonplace in the car.

Otterbox Brings Mophie Into Its iPhone UniVerse

Two of the industry’s largest smartphone accessory manufacturers have teamed up in the name of battery life and wireless charging. Otterbox announced Mophie would be joining its UniVerse product ecosystem with several compatible devices. The UniVerse case system, first introduced last year, allows consumers to mix and match accessories from different manufacturers using Otterbox’s modular iPhone case. Mophie is bringing several products into the fold, which can attach to the UniVerse case via a built-in magnet. The Charge Force 2,500 mAh battery ($69.95) will provide an additional 39 hours of talk time, while the Charge Force Adapter ($49.95) attaches in order to provide compatibility with Qi wireless charging. These are currently available. Other products that will soon be added to the UniVerse ecosystem include the Charge Force wireless charging base ($39.95), vent mount ($59.95) and desk mount ($59.95).

Our Take: Expect to see more collaborations (and perhaps even acquisitions?) as the smartphone accessories market continues to become extremely fragmented.

JBL Breaks Guinness World Record

JBL, a Harman International Industries brand, captured a Guinness World Records title last week when it successfully played 1,000 Flip 4 Bluetooth speakers simultaneously from a single media source. Arranged in a circular structure for a 360-degree sound, more than 200 guests watched the record achieved at an event in London. The previous record was set by Ultimate Ears with 208 speakers in 2016.

Our Take: We can’t help but wonder what Phil Spector would think of this “wall of sound.”

Cowboy Maloney’s Lassos Larger Digs

Echoing Roy Rogers’ country western classic, Cowboy Maloney’s told its Columbus, Miss., landlord last year, “Don’t fence me in.” And with that the 13-store CE, appliance and furniture chain left its 10,000-square-foot leased home of 22 years in the local Leigh Mall and purchased a 36,000-square-foot former furniture store across the street. Now, months later — and nearly one year after opening its 13th location near Ole Miss — the company has cut the ribbon on a new, expanded showroom designed to better serve this Northeast Mississippi town. According to chairman Con Maloney, the quest for greater elbow room was spurred by an economic boom within the so-called Golden Triangle area, which is bordered by Columbus, Starkville and West Point and was featured on Sixty Minutes, PBS and in The Atlantic.

Our Take: Spitting in the eye of retail contraction, the Maloney brothers more than tripled the size of their Columbus, Miss., showroom.

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