On Saturday, 15 years after Apple opened its first two retail stores, the newest flagship Apple Store will open its doors in San Francisco’s Union Square.
Those doors are not messing around: They’re 42 feet high and they open 40 feet wide, at both the front and back of the building. (The back opens onto a public plaza, open 24 hours, where Apple will host acoustic music concerts.) TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino tweeted some of the company’s illustrations:
But the doors aren’t the only change represented by the new Union Square location, whose design is meant to point the way for future Apple Stores around the world. The most surprising might be the replacement of the company’s iconic Genius Bar with what it calls a Genius Grove. I can think of an even more accurate name, based on my recent experiences at Apple Stores in New York, but I guess “Genius Cattle Pen” wouldn’t focus-group very well.
Here’s how Apple described the new concept in a press release: “‘Genius Grove’ invites customers to get support working side-by-side with Geniuses under the comfortable canopy of local trees in the heart of the store.”
The ficus-studded grove will offer “more room to sit and more Apple customer service specialists,” according to the New York Times. Each tree is “encircled by a leather bench, where customers can wait or sit next to Apple’s ‘geniuses’ as they work on the customers’ gadgets.”
It sounds lovely, really. As successful as the Genius Bar concept was, bars in general are more suited to activities that can be accomplished in a matter of a few minutes, such as, I don’t know, buying a drink. Anything more involved than that, and you’re probably going to be more comfortable sitting in an actual seat.
That said, if Apple really has figured out a way to make a space less crowded without either adding space or subtracting people, I think its triumph over the laws of physics is the real story here. Maybe it can file a patent for that, right alongside the one for the gold in the Apple Watch that’s twice as hard as normal gold.
Other noteworthy features of the new store include the Forum, a “vibrant gathering place” centered around a giant video screen, and the Boardroom, where Apple will host groups of developers and business customers. Many of these features will likely be replicated in other Apple Stores, although some will be reserved for the company’s “most significant” locations.
The point of all the design tweaks is to make Apple Stores feel less like a place to shop and more like a destination, Apple executive Angela Ahrendts told the Times. “We didn’t want it to feel like a store. We wanted it to feel like a town square—very open, and everyone invited.”
I can still think of some differences between Apple Stores and town squares, such as how tolerant they tend to be of protesters and how much lighter they’re likely to make your wallet. That said, Apple Stores have always been more than just a place to buy stuff, especially early on when the concept was still novel and the stores themselves relatively rare. It’ll probably take more than super-tall doors and some ficus trees to get people as excited about the experience as they once were, but at least it’s a start.