My iPhone slid out of my shirt pocket a few months ago and fell straight onto concrete. I was luckier than some: the only damage was a shattered back panel. I slapped a strip of black gaffers tape over it to keep it intact. I knew that I could take it to any Apple Store and have the back replaced for just $29, but I carried it around like that anyway.
I figured it was my punishment for not taking care of my toys.
I finally went into a Store today to get it fixed.
I went to Apple.com and reserved a time for my visit. When I arrived, I was greeted at the entrance. The place was packed, even though it was the middle of a random Wednesday afternoon. People were playing with every demo unit on display.
For all of the crowding, this mall Apple Store was still a pleasant place to be. It was clean and well-lit, and the staff were all clean, kind, and patient.
I made my way to the Genius Bar at the back. I was greeted a second time by an employee whose job was simply to act as a welcomer, concierge, and facilitator. He invited me to take a seat while I waited for my appointment. I was early.
I sat in a large area reserved for one-on-one training. A dozen or more people were learning how to use their Apple hardware. Some, I reckoned, were doing things with computers that they’ve never done before.
Me, I took out my iPad. I was on the store’s open WiFi in an instant. I wrote a few emails.
Five minutes before my scheduled time, a Genius walked up to where I was sitting. The broken glass was a simple problem and he explained that they could fix it up in just ten or fifteen minutes. He tapped away at an iPhone that had been equipped as a logging system for work orders and then he walked away with my phone.
I looked around. I saw a man carrying in an iMac wrapped in a towel, the way you’d carry a sick and beloved dog into the vet.
I saw a child who couldn’t have been more than four years old playing with an iMac that had been set up at a table low enough for four-year-old children to sit at. She was playing a word game of some sort. Presently, a parent came by and handed the girl what I presumed to be the child’s own white iPad 2, fresh from servicing. I sure didn’t think that this 30-ish woman had put Dora stickers on her own iPad.
The child stopped just short of hugging the iPad like a doll, but she was clearly very pleased to have it back again. She held it and woke it up and tapped through to her favorite apps. Satisfied — and at the urging of her mother — she then tucked it under her arm in a maternal way and held her mother’s hand as they walked out.
I spied another store employee with a full-sleeve tattoo in progress. Her forearm was complete but a koi that splashed down from her elbow had only been outlined. The traditional staff uniform is a tee shirt (in the color du jour). Staffers are welcome to throw something on underneath it. She obviously felt comfortable enough in this environment to show off her tattoos.
Another Apple employee approached me, with my repaired phone. I hadn’t budged from that table since I walked in and sat down. $29 plus tax for the repair. His iPhone card scanner didn’t work for some reason but he didn’t let his annoyance show. After two swipes, he apologized sheepishly and led me to the store’s POS terminal. Zip, tap, a few pleasantries, and it was all taken care of.
Let me extract elements from that story:
1) Staff acknowledging people as human beings, and with courtesy.
2) A pleasant, beautiful space to be in, even if the store wasn’t a “landmark” property.
3) People learning things.
4) People who don’t simply own and tolerate their computers, but who feel a real emotional connection to them.
5) People who live lives that are a bit out of the mainstream, in a space where they feel comfortable being who they are.
6) Kids who see the most advanced technology in the world as just another window through which they perceive the world.
7) The worst thing that can happen in a relationship between a manufacturer and a customer — a broken product — being handled quickly, courteously, efficiently…and affordably.
Steve Jobs was correctly known as the most productively hands-on CEO in technology or maybe even any other industry. The Apple Stores were a particular obsession. If you walked in and discovered that the table of hard drives had become a table of headphones and the hard drives were now on the third shelf of the first bank of product shelves, it was probably because of something Steve decided earlier in the week.
Steve is dead. But you walk into an Apple Store and you see all the reasons why he was such a phenomenal CEO, and why so many people feel the way I do tonight.