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Google and Intel Are Popping Up in the Retail World


In the holiday season, even big tech wants a storefront on Main Street.

Finally, we've got a plausible explanation for the Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) mystery barge floating off the coast of San Francisco. It will be a showroom. Okay, it'll be a vast and extremely cool, celebrity architect-designed floating showroom, complete with tall sails that look like fish fins. But a showroom is what it will be, and while it's still under wraps for now, you'll be able to see the same kind of stuff in a more prosaic setting-that is, a mall in Paramus, New Jersey.

Google wants to stand out from the competition during the upcoming holiday season, and in the real world, not just the virtual one. Even Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) has gotten the real-world bug and is opening temporary -- or "pop-up" -- stores for the season, including an exposed brick-walled outpost in NoLita, a hipster enclave of New York City.

Google has just announced it will open "Winter Wonderlab" showrooms in six cities across the US. They are designed as "play zones" stocked with Google-branded toys like Nexus 7 phones and Chromebook tablets. (Fans are already griping about the apparent omission of a Google Glass display.)

These are not cash-and-carry stores, though products can be ordered there for home delivery. Each will feature a giant walk-in snow globe that can be used as a setting for slow-motion videos to take home.

The Google barge does not seem destined to be a Winter Wonderlab, at least not this winter. However, the mystery barge may well be more of the same concept on a grander and more ambitious scale. filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get a look at the plans, filed with the city, that define the barge as a "temporary technology exhibit space" for local organizations.

Presumably those local organizations might include Google and its latest branded gadgets. A Google press release confirmed plans for "an interactive space where people can learn about new technology."

At least that makes more sense than earlier speculation that the barge was a floating party space or an ocean-cooled data-backup center. In any case, the barge remains under wraps for the present, with no firm opening date or details.

The Intel Store is just as surprising in its own way. Until now, Intel has seemed content to be a discreet sticker affixed to a keyboard, the "Intel Inside" that is always overshadowed by another brand name.

On Nov. 23, Intel will open its first store in Manhattan's downtown, to show off some of the gadgets that are powered by Intel's latest chips. It's one of a number of temporary pop-up stores for the season, though Intel's reportedly will stick around until late January to take advantage of year-end bonuses and other holiday booty.

Intel is starting its foray into retail modestly, with stores in just two other cities, Chicago and Venice, California. But it's promising a lot, too, from live programming in the evenings to loaner gadgets for home tryouts.

Google and Intel seem to be at opposite ends of the consumer-awareness spectrum. Nobody doesn't know what Google is. Plenty of otherwise well-informed people might be hard-pressed to explain what Intel does, even though it is ranked ninth on this year's Interbrand list of best global brands.

Still, both companies are in need of some visibility these days. Their products are buried in the many brands available at Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) or Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) stores, in the real and the virtual worlds.

Google is fighting itself, as its Nexus 7 and Chromebook products compete against products by Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) and other companies that use Google's Android operating system.

The latest figures from IDC indicate that Android is now the overwhelming leader in the smartphone market, with 81% of all shipments in the last quarter. But Samsung is the dominant brand, at just under 40% share of those sales.

Intel is virtually invisible unless a shopper reads the device specs. It could use the brand recognition and respect, now that it's struggling to catch up to competitors who focused earlier on mobile devices.

Related stories:

Why Apple Inc. Can't Save the Smart TV
12 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Google's Self-Driving Cars
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