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Google to open flagship retail stores by end of 2013

How much is that cloud in the window?

Apple and Microsoft both have their own, dedicated retail stores. Can Google be far behind? If the rumors are true, the answer is "not at all," with the first Google stores due to open by the end of this year.

Citing "an extremely reliable source," the gossipmongers at 9to5Google report that the Chocolate Factory is hard at work on plans to open its own flagship stores in "major metropolitan areas" in time for this year's holiday season.

The stores will reportedly highlight Google's Nexus devices, the Chrome browser, Chromebooks, and other new products to come, with an emphasis on giving prospective customers the chance to get hands-on with Googly kit before they buy.

About those aforementioned new products: according to 9to5Google's source, foremost among them will be Glass, the Chocolate Factory's much-ballyhooed experiment in wearable computing – which makes some sense, considering that few customers are likely to be willing to drop $1,500 on one of those based on looks alone.

If your Reg hack were to speculate, however, he'd reckon Google would have an easier time moving a glitzy, high-end Chromebook if it had a few retail locations in which to show them off, as well.

Besides consumer electronics, Google is also said to be planning to use the stores to showcase some of its other, more far-reaching technologies, such as its self-driving cars and various projects from its Google X labs.

Admittedly, the idea of a Google retail empire does sound a little far-fetched, given that Google still derives the vast majority of its income from online advertising rather than selling products. But all of Google's products – in addition to those of its OEM partners for Android and Chrome OS – help drive more traffic to the web, so promoting them more heavily would be in keeping with the company's broader goals.

The new stores wouldn't be the online ad-slinger's first foray into bricks and mortar. Google already operates a few hundred pop-up stores within Best Buy locations in the US and in PCWorld/Dixon's stores in the UK, which are mostly geared toward acquainting customers with Chromebooks.

And then, of course, there's always the feel-good factor to consider. Earlier this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook compared Cupertino's retail stores to "Prozac" and said that he likes to visit them whenever he's feeling blue.

Given how often Apple and Google butt heads these days, Larry Page and Sergey Brin are sure to have some down days of their own. Why shouldn't they get to have some retail therapy as well? ®

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