As part of a nationwide effort to promote computer science education among K-12 students, Apple will present a one-hour Hour of Code class this Wednesday at its U.S. retail stores. The non-profit group Code.org hopes to reach 10 million students during Computer Science Education Week starting tomorrow, with support from Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon. According to the group, the campaign, “aims to demystify computer science for students across the country by taking them through introductory tutorials that can be completed online, on a smartphone, or even unplugged.” On Apple’s Web site, the company describes the one-hour store session as, “a fun one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that anyone can learn the basics of programming.” Code.org was founded by twin brothers Ali and Hadi Partovi, whose technology experience includes Microsoft and several start-ups. Check the individual store listings for December 9th for the exact times of the Hour of Code event.
An update of the Apple Store app for the iPad takes complete advantage of the increased screen space over the iPhone version, providing an attractive design with more useful information, most notably advanced mapping features that take full advantage of the larger screen. The app was released last month and does not replace the version for the iPhone and iPod touch, which is still available. The usual retail store features remain, including finding a store worldwide, making a Genius Bar appointment or workshop/event reservation, and tracking reservations. When searching for a store, you can select by city name or ZIP Code, or use the map to zoom in-and-out on any location. Pushpins show the location of every store on earth, a feature not implemented on the iPhone version. As you pan-zoom the map, a list of stores in a column to the left dynamically changes—also missing from the iPhone version because of its smaller screen size. You can mark specific stores as favorites and view them in a separate list for even easier reference. Together with the existing product purchase features, the app is now the command center for Apple enthusiasts who need on-the-go capabilities to buy, find or reserve products and services from the on-line and retail stores. It’s available on the iTunes app store.
Starting today, Apple will have another way to communicate with and track visitors within its U.S. retail stores, using the new iBeacon messaging and locating system that’s built into iPhones and iPads. According to an Associated Press story, Apple has installed iBeacon software on several store display products within each store, and has mounted stand-alone iBeacon devices at strategic locations. The devices will send welcome messages and product information as visitors move around the store, and also track visitors’ movements, most likely for later analysis by the company. Apple demonstrated the iBeacon system to an AP reporter this week at the Fifth Avenue (NYC) retail store, where 20 iBeacons are beaming store-wide and short-range signals. Apple said users must have a Bluetooth 4.0 device and be running the Apple Store app. They made it clear that users must specifically give permission twice to use iBeacon: once to receive information from the iBeacons, and again to allow Apple to track their location within the store. The AP described two likely uses of the iBeacon in the stores: When you enter a store iBeacon will send you a status update on your Personal Pickup order, or when you pass by an iPhone 5s display table, it would send you an offer to update your older iPhone. Many of the promoted features of iBeacon are not applicable to Apple stores, including transmitted coupons, rebates, sale offers or affinity discounts, since Apple offers discounts only on Black Friday. Also, many of iBeacon’s potential benefits are already provided to visitors through the Apple Store app via a Wi-Fi connection. Beyond the iBeacon news, the fact that Apple briefed an AP reporter is remarkable. The company is famously secretive about its retail store operations, and rarely provides pre-announcements of any new stores, policies or technology. Update: Read my perspective about the usefulness of iBeacon for Apple’s stores. screenshots
As part of a plan to gain city approval for its expanded San Francisco retail store design, Apple’s architects have released a package of renderings, photographs, architectural drawings and descriptions that are unprecedented in their detail. In fact, materials like these and a three-dimensional scale model shown at a city planning meeting yesterday are usually kept under wraps and without Apple’s name on them, available to city commissions and boards, but hidden from the public view until the project is finished. In this case, Apple and its Foster + Partners architects have been forced to go public to gain support for the store project, which faces several obstacles—a bold design that differs from surrounding buildings, a prominent location on the city’s main public square, and early-on objections to the removal of an artistic fountain. The architect’s lobbying efforts have resulted in a 127-page public document (pdf) showing every visual angle of the store during both day and night, dimensions down to fractions of an inch, and photographs of all the materials that will be used in the building. In the past, Apple has notoriously concealed its entré into cities, asking city officials to leave its name off planning documents, and presenting no renderings that would instantly identify the design proposal. For example, when plans for the State Street (Santa Barbara, CA) and Higuera Street (San Luis Obispo, CA) Apple stores were presented to the local planning commissions, it was local Apple resellers who first recognized the store descriptions and tipped off media about Apple’s plans. When the Pioneer Place 2 (Portland, OR) store plan was considered by the city’s Design Commission in a two-hour public meeting just last year, not a single commission member mentioned the word “Apple,” and neither did the two architects from Bohlin Cywinski Jackson who gave a slide presentation and answered questions about the project. And there are several high-profile stores now under construction whose existence Apple’s doesn’t publicly acknowledge. View a gallery of renderings of the new store as prepared by Foster + Partners. details
It’s an irony not lost on Apple retail store employees: The company famous for their sophisticated yet easy-to-use software stumbled when it programmed the stores’ scheduling program, leaving out a method for loading employee schedules into iCal. But, in typical fashion, the third-party community has come up a solution that allows an employee to log on to their myPage account, call up their future work schedule, and quickly poke it into iCal for reference anywhere, any time. Former Australia store employee Josh Hunt came up with the idea for Roster Genius a year ago after noticing how poorly myPage worked with mobile devices. Word-of-mouth took the program around the world, and now Hunt says it’s being used by retail store employees in seven countries, converting up to 800 rosters a week. The program is intelligent, filling in store names and locations, and even generating a map. Hunt has plans to add more features, perhaps including a way to validate timecards to insure accuracy of timecard records. Check the Roster Genius Web page. Update: Insiders say there is a program with similar features that was developed in the UK. Separately, a Macintosh program offering schedule features was recently pulled from the App Store for policy violations. The program took myPage log-in details, and used them to log in an pull schedule data from Apple’s system to create the iCal entries. demo video
The staff of the Drake Circus (UK) Apple store helped create a memorable birthday for a young lady by cooperating with her parents’ surprise gift-giving. A just-posted YouTube video shows how the parents convinced Oliva to help her grandmother buy an iPhone case at the Apple store. When the family arrived at the store last Thursday and began browsing the shelves, an employee appeared with an Apple shopping bag—ballon attached—that had a MacBook Pro inside for Olivia. The gift was #7 in a series of gifts the parents presented her all through the day, lending to the Apple store suspense. ”Will and the team at the Apple Store were absolutely brilliant!,” Cowell posted with the YouTube video.
As part of an on-going project to improve Genius Bar service at Apple’s retail stores by reducing the number of unnecessary appointments, Apple has revised the main Concierge Web page to include an offer to receive on-line support by telephone, chat or email. Outside of the holiday season, the Genius Bars create the most congestion of any activity within the store, and the lack of on-line appointments is arguably the most criticized element of the stores’ operation. At some stores, it often occurs that every Genius Bar appointment is often booked out for five days, leaving those with critical problems to wait hours for drop-in service. As first noticed by 9to5mac.com, when a Web viewer now clicks on the Concierge button from any store’s Web page, an option appears to “Save a trip to the store.” Clicking on that option leads to a series of options: product category, individual product, type of problem (two screens), and finally to the type of contact you’d like to initiate. The contact options include an immediate or scheduled telephone call (inbound or outbound), or chat. In the case of scheduled calls or chat, the Web page shows you how many minutes you might wait for service. Apple upgraded its AppleCare service last August to include more contact options, and in September began requiring Apple IDs to make Genius Bar appointments—previously no log-in was required. It’s unknown how either of these changes might have reduced the number of booked Genius Bar appointments. screenshot
Only a single Apple store will be open on Thanksgiving Day this year, while the remainder of the chain will focus on Black Friday with 6 a.m. opening times at most U.S. stores, all to accommodate shoppers on the first official day of the holiday season. According to schedules just posted for each store, many locations will stay open as late as 10 p.m., while others are closing at 9 p.m. Only the Royal Hawaiian (Hi.) store will be open on Thanksgiving this year, despite pressure from district managers to open more store for some portion of the holiday. The Honolulu store will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursday to accommodate restless tourists, and from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Black Friday. This store and the Forum Shops (Las Vegas) store have been open on Thanksgiving in previous years. Store schedules are important this year, since there is one less week between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day this year to grab customer revenue. Like most retailers of high-value products, nearly one-third of Apple’s retail store revenues are generated during the holiday quarter. The special store hours for the period surrounding Christmas and New Year’s should be posted in early December. read more…
A street magician with an extensive on-line presence took his talents in-person to the SoHo (NYC) Apple retail store, making a coin appear to glide around within an iPhone screen, and then materializing the coin for real. Levi Sparkx is following in the footsteps of other magicians who perform their magic to passersby on the sidewalk or other improvised locations. Sparkx has also worked more traditional venues, mostly on the east coast. In a YouTube video Sparkx just posted, he performed his Apple store magic without an audience, standing at the iPhone display table by himself, and with no applause. Check out Sparkx’ other magic on YouTube.
A leaked image of this year’s Apple store holiday display window reveals it will consist of a curtain of LEDs, but the most intriguing element of the image is the depicted retail store itself. The image—it’s not clear if it’s a photo, retouched photo or even a rendering—was provided to the 9to5mac Web site by a tipster. It’s possible the image depicts Apple’s internal store model that’s known to exist at the Cupertino headquarters…or a completely rendered store. This year’s window display is composed of two suspended curtains of about 2,100 LED lights each, suspended behind iPhones and iPads mounted on slim metal poles. The LEDs are programmed to display moving images of stylized snowflakes. The display is being rolled out to stores this week, and first appeared at the expanded Fashion Show (Las Vegas) that opened last weekend. Update: In fact, sources say, the image is a complete rendering, created as part of the instructions given to each store’s visual merchandising team, to show them how the LED window display should appear when they are finished with installation. details
A glitch somewhere along the complicated network that comprises Apple’s retail store computer network forced employees to hand process credit card purchases over two days, and also affected Personal Pickup service. Customers both inside and outside the United States reported the outages on Thursday and Friday, although Apple never acknowledged the problems. The Apple stores use a variety of applications linked by various networks to track essential retail services, including scheduling, payroll, inventory and store events. The latter category includes the Concierge system for Genius Bar appointments, and systems for Personal Pickup, One to One, Personal Setup and instructional workshops. Starting on Thursday morning, customers reported that employees were using manual credit card imprinters to collect account information, a technique that some younger customers may never have experienced. In fact, most retailers stock an emergency kit (pdf) of credit card imprinters and paper-carbon charge slips in case of computer or network problems. Other customers said they were unable to pick up products at the stores that they had previously ordered on-line, since the computer system was down. However, sources were unable to pinpoint where along the network the outage had occurred—the network provider, within Apple’s network or along the link to credit card authorizers. The outages lasted several hours on both days. During that time, Apple was unable to obtain the usual credit card authorization for purchases, leaving open the possibility that some transactions involved credit cards that were reported lost or stolen, or that were over-limit. Normally, these types of purchases are declined by the authorizer. However, it’s likely that a very small percentage of sales was lost during the outages, either from fraud or impatient customers who decided not to wait for manual processing of their purchase.
Following the lead of other mass-market retailers hoping to jump-start this year’s Black Friday shopping, sources say several specifically-located U.S. Apple stores will be open on Thanksgiving Day this year to help boost the chain’s revenues. The policy expands upon previous years when only the tourist-heavy Royal Hawaiian (Hi.) and Forum Shops (Las Vegas) stores were open on Thanksgiving for holiday shoppers, and some other stores opened as early at 3 a.m. on Black Friday. According to insiders, over the past few years several Apple retail Market Directors have been advocating for more stores to be open on Thanksgiving, believing the company was missing out on substantial holiday sales. Apparently their viewpoint prevailed this year, and at least 10 stores will be open some portion of Thanksgiving. Employee schedules to cover the holiday shifts were being prepared over the last two days. Other retailers have drawn criticism from employees for their open-on-Thanksgiving policy, saying it takes them away from their families on the holiday. However, the retailers have said they will try to accommodate employees with alternate time off. At Apple, the Fifth Avenue (NYC) store is open every day of the year, but in previous years all but two stores were closed for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Check Apple’s list of retail stores for holiday shopping hours when they are eventually posted. Update: On Wednesday morning over the objections of the Market Directors, Apple CEO Tim Cook cancelled the plan to keep several stores open on Thanksgiving. Cook’s specific objection was that it’s important for Apple retail employees to be with their families on the holiday. On the other hand, the Market Directors were reportedly motivated by large potential holiday-quarter bonuses based on performance targets, adding to their $400,000 salaries. The last calendar quarter at Apple retail is always the busiest and generates the most revenue, leading to the largest bonuses. read more / chart
The marketing of two former Apple store buildings is providing some insights into the original lay-out of the stores, and also details on how much Apple might have been paying to occupy prime real estate. Both buildings in northern and southern California are owned by investment groups, and are still sitting empty after Apple moved retail operations to larger spaces just blocks away. Commercial real estate agents are shopping the former Palo Alto and Third Street Promenande (TSP) spaces to potential tenants for $489,000 and $1.13 million a year respectively. That figure does not include other building expenses that an owner typically pays, but instead assigns to a lessee, including taxes, insurance and maintenance. Of course, for Apple, the cost of a lease is never an impediment to selecting a retail store building. The company’s philosophy has always been to locate where there is very high traffic, and pay whatever it costs. detail / diagrams
The night in 2011 when Jayna Murray was murdered in a Bethesda (Md.) Lululemon store, her screams were audible to Apple store employees next door. Now a new book about her murder and the subsequent trial of her killer explains why neither Bethesda Row store manager Jana Svrzo nor two security guards dialed 9-1-1 to report the noises—they believed it was just “drama” or some other easy explanation. Sadly, it was not. The next morning an arriving Lululemon employee opened the store and discovered Murray’s very bloody body. The 30 year-old had been slashed over 320 times with a box cutter and other sharp objects, struck on the head with a hammer, and strangled. A state’s attorney later said Murray was alive during most of the prolonged attack. Arriving police found Murray’s co-worker Brittany Norwood alive, bound up and bloody in a back room. She claimed that two men had entered the store and viciously attacked the two women. Despite those statements, the police investigation soon focused on Norwood, and she was arrested, charged and convicted of Murray’s murder. In the new book “The Yoga Store Murder,” Washington Post reporter Dan Morse details Murray’s life and death, and the murder trial. An excerpt of the new book was just published in the Post, focusing specifically on the Apple store employees as they heard the attack occurring next door. At trial, Norwood admitted killing Murray, but she claimed it was not premeditated. The jury disagreed, and convicted her of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced her to serve life without parole. photos
An amazingly detailed rendering of a new Apple retail store on the corner of 100 Bloor Street West in Toronto (Canada) seems to raise hopes of a second downtown location for the city, but it’s only a developer’s wishful speculation. The rendering shows a store with 40-foot tall glass windows, two large, suspended Apple logos, and a typically bright interior with wall graphics and product display tables. Bloor Street has been the subject of Apple store speculation since 2009, but no active projects have emerged. Apple never publicly divulges its architectural plans until it’s ready to submit building permit applications to city officials. The rendering is one of several that appeared in a lease promotion (pdf) for the property, which consists of a 26-story condominium tower and three large, ground-floor retail spaces that have recently become available. The property is about one mile from the existing Eaton Centre store along a section of Bloor Street that has been rejuvenated. The corner space at Bloor and Bellair Streets shown in the rendering spans 5,665 square-feet on the ground floor, and potentially 9,741 square-feet on the upper level. In the Apple store rendering, the public retail space is two-levels tall at the front of the space, while the back-of-house presumably occupies both levels at the rear. It’s common for property developers to create speculative renderings that show potential tenants, long before the project is built, leased or constructed. In this case, the developer created separate renderings for Apple to occupy each of the three retail spaces—with varying fidelity to Apple’s architectural and design standards. more renderings