Hm, what product could make Apple cover the windows of a retail shop so soon after the holiday shopping season? Surely not the iPad 2. Maybe something that looks the same but works on a totally new network? You know, that Verizon iPhone that we've been hearing about for a few years now, perchance? Well, as it turns out, probably not.
The above pic and another one posted on Uneasy Silence by way of TwitPic (dated January 9, 2011) show retail employees deploying the big black shroud to cover the store windows. The poster is from the UK, but no specific location of this store is given. Calls to several US stores said they are not covering up, and honestly, covering up (and closing a retail shop) for an entire day before a major announcement would be nuts. This cover-up is most likely for an already-existing product that is getting a new window display, which would be installed overnight. It happens frequently at Apple Stores, particularly after the holidays.
Despite the unrelated cover-up, we're hearing that retail employees will have a meeting next weekend for the "red zone" -- a code name given to the sales area of the floor. We're also hearing of a possible new setup area, meaning you may see a part of stores set up strictly to accommodate new iPhone purchasers and get their phones activated. This would be great for Verizon customers suddenly flocking to Apple's warm embrace, yes? At any rate, it's more about the service than the product, both in the retail experience and on your network when you leave the store.
Update: As 9to5Mac points out and we hear independently, starting January 11, there will be no more restocking fees. Perhaps this "test drive anything" policy is getting some big display announcement? That would seem apropos.
Update 2: We're hearing the reason the windows are being blocked off? Retail employees are being trained on new "setup areas" that aren't for the Verizon iPhone, but for new customers who may be unfamiliar with Macs or iOS devices and would like to get things started with the help of a friendly Apple retail employee. Doing that now involves clogging up the Genius area in many cases.