The Apple Store has turned into America's unofficial teen center


If you have an Apple Store in your city, you know that it's not always a good place to test drive a new computer. Its sturdy tables are evenly lined with the latest models, but good luck using one of them. There's always someone ahead of you. Even at empty malls populated mostly with piano stores and tumbleweeds, the Apple Store is jamming.

That's because of the free Web access. Apple computers, being cutting-edge, are much less useful without internet access, so its dozen-odd floor models are eternally connected to the Web. That's where the kids come in.

A decade ago, when fewer people had their own computers, if you wanted to get online when you weren't home, you had to go to an internet cafe. But today, moneyed people tote Blackberries and wifi-enabled laptops, so the American internet cafe is all but dead. Except that many high school kids are too young to have jobs and usually don't have their own laptops. So they can't get online at Starbucks or Panera Bread, like the rest of us. They go to the Apple Store, where they can borrow the computer without charge or time limit.

That's attraction enough for those too young to have private Web access (and for those with prying parents back home). But then there's the fact that most Apple computers now come with built-in cameras. Lots of kids are hitting the Apple Store just to take shots of themselves with the webcam. Facebook will take and post a shot of you directly from your profile page. In fact, one Michigan teen just started a new Facebook group called "I Only Go 2 The Apple Store To Take Photos and Put Them On Facebook." There are already 68 members.