In the midst of an epic American winter and as snow swirled around the Fifth Avenue (NYC) Apple store glass cube, passersby noticed that one of the tall and usually transparent glass panels was crazed, apparently damaged by a snowblower that roamed too close. The 32-foot tall glass panel has an internal plastic lamination layer, so the glass stayed in place, and no one was injured. Within minutes workers put up stanchions to block off the rear-right panel. The cube was installed in 2005-2006 using glass manufactured in Germany by Seele GmbH & Co. It reportedly cost $7 million to create and install. At the time, the cube represented the upper size limit of laminated glass technology, so each side of the cube was composed of six panels. In June 2011 the cube was completely disassembled and replaced with one that has wider glass panels made by North Glass Safety Glass Co. (China). At Apple’s direction, the company had pioneered new technology that allowed the lamination of longer and wider glass panels. The new glass was used to construct the 40-foot tall cylindrical glass entrance at the Pudong (Shanghai) store that opened in July 2010. Using wider panels, the new Fifth Avenue cube required just 12 vertical side panels compared to the former cube’s 24 panels. According to city permit documents, the cube replacement construction cost $6.5 million. The cost of the individual glass panels themselves isn’t known. However, a 20-foot tall panel of the same width installed at the Stratford City (UK) store reportedly cost $65,110. It’s likely that Apple has insurance to replace the glass. It’s known that Apple keeps replacement glass panels near its stores that have custom glass windows to allow prompt replacement. Interestingly, the original cube was surrounded by a series of short metal bollards that provided some measure of protection for the glass. The bollards were removed when the cube was disassembled and replaced. photos

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After enduring three years of interminable construction, the residents of Brisbane (Australia) finally celebrated the grand opening of its downtown Apple retail store on Friday morning. A waiting line of fewer than 350 watched as the two massive front doors slid open, revealing a single, huge and bright space under a tall ceiling covered with intricate details, restored from the building’s original 1934 plans. Andris was the first person in line at 7 p.m. Thursday evening, followed by about seven others before midnight. The overnight weather was in the 70s, but after the sun came up there were three waves of rain sprinkles that dampened the waiting line. Apple staffers brought out umbrellas for the rain, and later handed out more umbrellas for the hot sun. The 1,000 commemorative T-shirts lasted about one hour, followed by a steady stream of visitors all day. Inside, the store again proves that Apple’s team has the skill and expertise to manage the difficult process of upgrading an historic building while keeping its most distinctive features intact. details

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A company linked to the third-richest man in the world has purchased the building that houses the Calle Colón (Valencia, Spain) Apple retail store, just days after the company purchased the property encompassing the Passeig de Gràcia (Barcelona, Spain) store. Amancio Ortega, 77, is the co-founder of Inditex, a Spanish fashion company that is has also reportedly purchased the Carrousel du Louvre (Paris) shopping mall, which happens to include an underground Apple store. Inditex manages several clothing brands, including Zara, Bershka and Massimo Dutti. Ortega retired from Inditex in 2011, but is still a guiding force for the company. As reported by Valencia Plaza, the Valencia property is occupied entirely by Apple, and was purchased for $31.2 million. It will generate an estimated five percent profit annually, the story says. The deal includes an option for Apple to purchase the building, presumably after the initial lease expires. The Barcelona building sale was finalized for $60.1 million, including Apple’s 15-year lease on the ground floor and mezzanine spaces. Apple owns few of its 72 street-level store buildings, preferring to partner with investors who own the buildings. Understandably, Apple is considered the perfect tenant by landlords—the company maintains the building to exacting standards, pays the rent on time, and their continued occupancy and solvency are assured.

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Apple is making last-minute preparations to open its newest retail store, at the China Central Mall (Beijing), and it’s another example of making a major brand statement in an important country. The store is 30 feet tall, but on just one level, and occupies a very wide, slightly L-shaped space in front of an expansive plaza for even more visibility. The architecture slightly resembles the Stanford 2 (N. Calif.) store, with an overhang of bead-blasted stainless steel. However, it lacks the airiness of the Stanford location because of six massive interior columns wrapped in stainless steel that block a complete view of the interior. The store also has what might be the chain’s first set of revolving doors, located on either side of a standard door located beneath the Apple logo.  The store is the tenth store in the country, and the fourth in Beijing. Apple executives have repeatedly said China is a sales priority for the company, and have promised to have 20 to 30 stores open by now. But various delays due to construction, logistics and politics have slowed the growth of retail stores in the country. View a gallery of pre-opening store photos. (photo by Yongfan Men)

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A man who visited the Fourth Street (N. Calif.) Apple retail store for an iPad exchange in 2012 claims he was detained by police, involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital and later arrested. Now he’s filed a lawsuit in U.S. District court over the incident, claiming Apple engages in a pattern of discriminatory conduct, and that he has suffered various injuries and emotional distress from the incident. The lawsuit filed December 23, 2013 incorrectly identifies the plaintiff as “Terell Gray,” although references within the document correctly spell his name “Terrell Gray.” The lawsuit is filled with other misspellings, incorrect grammar, factual mistakes and typing irregularities. It was prepared by East Orange (NJ) Municipal Court judge Karimu Hill-Harvey, who also has a private law practice. The lawsuit alleges violations of several U.S. Constitution amendments and U.S. Codes, all with a focus on Apple’s unequal treatment of African-American men in the company’s retail stores. The lawsuit asks for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, and an injunction against future discriminatory conduct. However, public records and a witness recollection of the Apple store encounter contradict several key points in Gray’s lawsuit. details

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Michelle Hillaert is a very happy customer of Apple’s retail stores, and has posted a video on YouTube to prove her eternal devotion. In the three-minute video Hillaert sings out her story of buying a Macbook on Craigslist, but then encountering a disk drive problem. She took the laptop to the Fair Oaks (Virg.), where the Genius Bar staff sent it to a repair depot. The laptop returned and was working for awhile, Hillaert sings, including the refrain, “Oh, Apple took care of me.” But then the MacBook developed serious screen problems. When she returned to the store for a repair, a manager recognized her from previous visits, and decided to deliver the ultimate Christmas present—a new laptop. At the end of the video, Hillaert—wearing an Apple logo T-shirt—gives an enthusiastic shout-out to Eddy, Tony, Sammy, Omar and “all the guys” at the store that helped her out. video

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A growing political scandal in Turkey threatens to involve the country’s prime minister, a key player in a program to purchase $4 billion worth of iPads for thousands of schools, which in turn was a major motive for Apple’s plans to open a retail store in the country early next year. Three ministers resigned Christmas night in the face of corruption allegations unrelated to Apple, and they called on prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to also resign. If Erdogan does leave office, it could put the iPad deal in jeopardy, and leave the nearly-finished and high-profile Apple store with vastly fewer customers. It was Erdogan who visited Apple’s headquarters last year, reportedly to negotiate the purchase of 12 million iPads for the country’s schools. It’s believed that as part of the iPad purchase agreement, the company also agreed to open a retail store in Istanbul, despite the country’s minuscule market share for Apple products. CEO Tim Cook will reportedly fly to Turkey next February to finalize the iPad deal with Turkish officials. According to research by StatCounter, Apple’s desktop operating systems are used on just .86 percent of Turkey’s computers, the lowest among all current and potential retail store countries. The OS market share figure is significant, because it indicates how many potential store customers there are within a country. The United States has a 13.7 percent OS share, while Switzerland leads the list of store countries with a 21.2 percent share. details

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A glass front door at the Bethesda Row (Md.) Apple retail store fell out of its hinge mountings on Monday and fell onto the sidewalk, injuring a passerby. It’s the first such incident known to occur at an Apple retail store, at least publicly. The Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service said the male victim was transported to a hospital with serious but non-life threatening injuries. A companion of the victim said the male victim suffered a broken pelvis. The person also reported that Apple employees said the door and been recently re-installed. The right entrance door, weighing less than 275 pounds according to its thickness and dimensions, was photographed lying on the sidewalk, broken but held together by a plastic lamination layer. The metal door pull was still attached to the glass. It’s not clear if the door was locked open at the time of the incident, a common practice. However, it was nearly 70° outside at the time. Apple spokeswoman Amy Bessette issued a statement about the incident, saying, “We work hard to make our stores a happy & safe environment for our customers. We’ve reached out to the family directly to express our condolences and we hope for a fast recovery.” photos

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In a scene reminiscent of several crimes against Apple stores in the United States, the Kufürstendamm (Berlin) retail store was burglarized early today by suspects who used a stolen car to smash down the front door. It’s the first time a high-profile Apple store had been so targeted by burglars, although smaller stores in the United States suffered a two-year rash of similar crimes starting in 2011. Berlin police are investigating if today’s burglary is related to several similar crimes in the city over the past week. At about 4:15 a.m. this morning, witnesses say a black Opel Corsa sedan left the roadway, sped across the 40-foot wide sidewalk without striking Apple’s outdoor product display fixtures, and crashed into the middle door of the store. The vehicle never made it inside the store, but the suspects then stole display products and fled in two cars. In the U.S., the series of nighttime burglaries prompted Apple to install steel security grates over most of its stores with any vehicle access. But during a 2012 burglary of the Temecula (S. Calif.) store, a BMW drove through the security grating and then became trapped inside the store. Update: In February 2014 re-construction of the doorway was still in-progress. photos

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Only a single Apple store will be open on Christmas Day this year, but the majority of stores in the United States will be open early on the 26th to accommodate really late shoppers or new Apple product owners seeking set-up assistance. Meanwhile, stores outside the U.S. will have varied schedules for the holiday, some observing two days off, others with hours similar to the U.S. stores. According to the holiday hours just posted on the individual stores’ Web pages, the Fifth Avenue (NYC) store will again be open 24-7, including Christmas Day. But most other U.S. stores will close no later than 6 p.m., and will then open at 8 a.m. on the day after Christmas. A few stores will close at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., and then open at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. on the 26th. Stores in Japan and China do not have any holiday hours listed. read more / chart

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A component of Apple’s retail stores is designed to be completely invisible, but it takes a lot of work and money to keep it that way. And according to the company hired to polish out scratches, graffiti and dings in the storefront window glass, sometimes Apple doesn’t even ask the cost before authorizing the work. The special low-iron window glass used at Apple’s stores worldwide is an essential design component, and it must always be in excellent condition. So Apple hires Glass Polish Ltd. (UK) to perform work on the windows when it’s damaged by original construction work or later vandalism. The company has subsidiaries in 28 countries around the world, including Unscratch The Surface in the United States. The company’s Web site says it has worked on windows at the Covent Garden (London) store before the grand opening to remove construction damage, repairing it for $8,500 instead of requiring a $41,000 replacement. At the Higuera Street (Calif.) store the company removed graffiti from a $15,000 panel. When the Ridge Hill (NY) store window glass needed major work before the grand opening in 2012, Glass Polish says Apple hired them, “without even asking what it was going to cost!” Visit the company’s main Web site, and watch a company-produced video about their work at the Ridge Hill Apple store. details

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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. read more…

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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. video demo

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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. In February 2014 a Qualcomm exec said the company’s Gimbal product was being used by Apple in their retail stores. screenshots

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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

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