This morning Apple updated its online store in a number of countries to support live one-on-one chats with online "specialists." It's a three-part program that will help customers decide which product to buy, guide them through the store, and help them set up their product after purchase. Apple first started offering online support chats back in April, but this is the first time it's offered a complete "Genius Bar" experience directly through its store, and setup assistance is entirely new. The feature is live in the UK, Germany, Spain, and Brazil, and is currently available only to customers buying an iPhone or iPad.
We gave the UK version of the "specialists" feature a test and were instantly connected to a helpful lady named Marie, who was able to answer (almost — she told us she couldn't comment on our iPad mini question) all of our questions, albeit with a healthy dose of PR. Posing as a customer who was undecided on which iPad to buy, we asked a number of questions regarding the iPad 2 and retina iPad. Marie shared her Safari window with us and talked us through the differences between the two.
She used visual aids available on the website such as Apple's "Retina comparison" widget that shows how text looks better with Retina. We also asked some questions about app compatibility, and were directed to how to check if an app is compatible with the retina iPad or iPad 2 on both our iPhone and web browser.
As we began to make our excuses and leave, Marie offered to take our email address to arrange another one-on-one with her at a time to match our convenience. She also explained that if and when we buy an iPad, if it's purchased through the website with her then she would personally talk us through all the "tips and tricks" and help us with setting up our email and apps once our iPad arrives.
While the service isn't of much help to us, or likely readers of this site, we could see it being useful for customers that aren't as versed in technology. We reached out to Apple to ask if and when the service will be offered in the US, and were told that there was "nothing further to announce" regarding an international rollout.