Apple has released a statement from CEO Tim Cook about the company’s response to COVID-19. Among other things, the company is closing all of its retail locations outside Greater China until March 27, 2020. Cook said:
We will be closing all of our retail stores outside of Greater China until March 27. We are committed to providing exceptional service to our customers. Our online stores are open at www.apple.com, or you can download the Apple Store app on the App Store. For service and support, customers can visit support.apple.com. I want to thank our extraordinary Retail teams for their dedication to enriching our customers’ lives. We are all so grateful to you.
Apple is also moving to flexible work arrangements for employees outside of Greater China, extending leave benefits, and paying hourly workers in line with business as usual operations.
Apple’s retail stores are often crowded, especially on weekends, so it’s good to see the company take these measures for the safety of its customers and employees.
Today alongside the launch of the iPhone 11 line and Apple Watch Series 5, Apple reopened its long-under-construction Apple Fifth Avenue retail location. First closed in January 2017 and relocated to a temporary space nearby, the new Fifth Avenue opens as the largest Apple Store in the world; it also remains the only location open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.
Following news earlier this summer that Apple was partnering with Best Buy for expanded repair service, today the company has announced another initiative to make device repairs more accessible:
“To better meet our customers’ needs, we’re making it easier for independent providers across the US to tap into the same resources as our Apple Authorized Service Provider network,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. “When a repair is needed, a customer should have confidence the repair is done right. We believe the safest and most reliable repair is one handled by a trained technician using genuine parts that have been properly engineered and rigorously tested.”
Independent repair providers can join Apple’s new program at no cost, provided they have an Apple-certified technician on staff. Joining provides a variety of benefits:
Apple will provide more independent repair businesses — large or small — with the same genuine parts, tools, training, repair manuals and diagnostics as its Apple Authorized Service Providers (AASPs). The program is launching in the US with plans to expand to other countries.
Apple’s moves this summer to make authorized repairs more accessible from outside an Apple Store reflect the company’s struggles to keep up with accelerated repair demand from a growing user base. While repairs will likely always be a core element of Apple Stores, by pushing more people to third-party providers, Apple can perhaps make its retail locations less crowded and thus more pleasant to visit moving forward.
Michael Steeber reports for 9to5Mac on some interesting developments he’s observed in certain Apple Stores recently:
Apple is evolving its in-store shopping experience with signage and display fixtures that remove ambiguity and encourage increased hands-on interaction with products. New designs that have been spotted in multiple locations reflect the changing requirements of busy stores and appear to address common customer needs.
He mentions things like signs indicating checkout zones, a new table guide spelling out differences between iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max, and more customer-friendly Watch displays.
The new retail design language Apple began rolling out in 2015 brought visual simplicity by deemphasizing signage, logos, and extraneous store fixtures. While more aesthetically pleasing, some customers have found contemporary stores challenging to navigate. These new fixtures and signs show that Apple is willing to fine-tune the balance between appearance and function.
Normally these changes might go overlooked, particularly since they’re currently only in a handful of stores, but they’re noteworthy for reasons of timing. Apple’s former head of retail, Angela Ahrendts, was recently succeeded by Deirdre O’Brien, and while all signs point to Ahrendts’ departure being amicable, one common complaint regarding her tenure is that Apple Stores became less functional shopping places despite growing unquestionably more beautiful and lavish in design. These few scattered signs of change spotted by Steeber indicate an early priority shift coming from Apple’s new SVP of Retail.
Molly McHugh writing for The Ringer:
The saturation of iOS and Mac products means more and more people own Apple devices—which means more and more people need help using them. Each iOS and MacOS release reveals a new suite of tools and capabilities, but also new challenges and complications (and sometimes bugs). At the same time, Apple’s Genius Bar has become a purgatory no iDevice owner wants to find themselves stuck in.
That in a nutshell is one of the greatest challenges facing Apple retail today, and one that’s been years in the making. It’s not really surprising either. Especially since the introduction of the iPhone, the number of Apple devices in consumers’ hands has grown exponentially, while the number of Apple Stores and Geniuses that work in them has not.
McHugh ultimately resorted to a third-party repair shop to solve a software problem with Voice Memos and had a good experience. The story, however, strikes an increasingly common refrain that highlights a problem Apple needs to address.
Apple has announced a major change to its executive team: Angela Ahrendts, the company’s Senior Vice President of Retail, is leaving the company this April. Stepping in to fill her big shoes is Deirdre O’Brien, whose title before today was Vice President of People; O’Brien is now taking on the role of Senior Vice President of Retail + People.
In her expanded role, Deirdre will bring her three decades of Apple experience to lead the company’s global retail reach, focused on the connection between the customer and the people and processes that serve them. She will continue to lead the People team, overseeing all People-related functions, including talent development and Apple University, recruiting, employee relations and experience, business partnership, benefits, compensation, and inclusion and diversity.
Ahrendts is one of Apple’s most visible executives, with regular appearance at keynote events and frequent interactions with Apple retail staff through in-house messaging. Her five years at Apple have made a significant impact on the company, as she oversaw both the introduction of the Today at Apple program and a new design language for Apple’s retail stores, which have grown more physically impressive and unique during her time.
It took nearly 18 months of Apple’s regular Today at Apple promotions through keynote events and press releases, but I finally had my interest in the program piqued. As I wrote earlier this month, whereas every other Apple product is analyzed to death by writers, podcasters, and YouTubers, the company’s retail stores and Today at Apple program are often ignored by tech media. But Apple’s increased trumpeting of its retail initiatives, in the face of a collective shrug from the press, made me wonder what exactly we’re all missing out on here. I mean, if the company is passionate enough about Today at Apple to host over 18,000 sessions per week, then there must be something special about the program.
So I attended my first session.
Last Monday morning I opened the Apple Store app and booked a session at Apple Fifth Avenue called “Photo Lab: Crafting Your Shot Co-created with Chase Jarvis.” As I suspect is true of most iPhone owners, I love taking pictures with my phone, but I know absolutely nothing about the ins and outs of quality photography. As a result, the Photo Lab session seemed like a great place to start.
Much of the time when Apple promotes Today at Apple, it highlights sessions taking place in its global flagship stores, with beautiful open forums and enormous wall displays. My experience was a lot more low-key, as the Fifth Avenue location is currently approaching two full years in temporary housing as major renovations to its previous location near completion. While the revamped Fifth Avenue store will undoubtedly come with all the beauty and grandeur of locations like Michigan Avenue and Regent Street, for now the site lacks all those modern bells and whistles; rather than taking place in a forum, my Today at Apple session took place around a small table that sat eight participants.
I’m not going to get much into the specifics of the session’s contents, which were solid overall; instead, I want to share three simple takeaways from this first Today at Apple experience. They’re the three main things that were on my mind following the session, and after rewatching portions of Apple’s October event in Brooklyn, I realized that my takeaways actually line up with statements shared by executives at the event.
Michael Steeber of 9to5Mac writes about the increasing importance of ‘Today at Apple’ as a unique competitive strength for the company:
Would you go to a Photo Walk at a Microsoft store? Do you trust a Google retail employee to teach you how to draw? Is there a group of passionate musicians dedicated to Samsung platforms?
Apple has captivated the creative community for over 40 years, and many people across the world have done their life’s work with Apple products. This year’s “Behind the Mac” ad campaign perfectly encapsulates why people are excited about Today at Apple.
In-store sessions aren’t totally new. Apple stores have held workshops in one form or another since their introduction in 2001. But until Today at Apple, sessions were more focused on technical training and lacked the same creative spark.
Steeber’s point about other big tech companies is a great one. I wouldn’t look to any other tech giant for creative lessons in areas of music, photography, or drawing, and I don’t think any other average customer would either. But with Apple, the story’s different. The company has always held a special level of credibility among creators, and that remains true today.
I’ve never attended a Today at Apple session, but over time I’ve grown more and more intrigued by Apple’s major retail initiative. Unlike the intense scrutiny given to everything else Apple does, Today at Apple seems to receive very little attention from the world of tech journalism. Yet Apple clearly believes it’s on to something with Today at Apple, and it shows every time Angela Ahrendts or Tim Cook spend time at an event lauding the program.
It’s hard to care too much about Today at Apple when your closest Apple Store is far enough away to be an inconvenience, which is perhaps why I never seriously considered attending a session while living in the suburbs of Dallas. Now that I’m in the urban environment of New York City, however, with Apple Stores all around and in walking distance, the idea of popping in for a session to help sharpen my creative senses is really appealing. It doesn’t hurt that Apple’s latest retail store work is so visually stunning, making a great environment for learning.
Moving forward, I’m definitely eager to keep a close eye on Today at Apple.
Apple has updated the iOS Apple Store app to version 5.0 with a new Sessions tab and improved personalization.
In the center of the tab bar, the new Sessions tab highlights upcoming Today at Apple programs. The tab is broken into Spotlight, Upcoming, Recommended Sessions, and Signature Programs sections. At the very bottom of the page, you can also browse sessions by category.
Recommended sessions are based on the Apple products you owned and perhaps also previous sessions you’ve attended. For example, in my case, the app recommended a Swift Playgrounds session either because my son attended a similar class in December or because I own an iPad Pro and ‘How To: Run a Connected Business’ because I have a Mac mini. The sessions listed were located all over the Chicago area, which I like, except that it made it harder to find sessions at the Apple Store closest to my home.
The app also uses its history of your Apple devices to let you know if accessories you purchase are compatible with the hardware you already own. I like this feature a lot because it spares me the trouble of investigating compatibility myself, and presumably will spare Apple from some returns by customers.
In the Discover tab of the app, your product history is used to provide personalized product recommendations. The tab also includes reminders of items you’ve marked as favorites, suggesting you take another look at them, and adds new ways to manage your orders.
In my limited time with the update, I’ve been impressed with the recommendations and greater personalization. Apple Stores are almost always packed with people near my home, so an improved Apple Store app experience is always welcome.
The Apple Store app is available as a free download on the App Store.