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Aug 11

Apple’s invisible advantage

Back in June, Apple covered up its landmark Fifth Avenue Cube in NY to begin a $6.6 million renovation project. The word was that they would be re-outfitting the glass cube itself — reducing it from 90 panes to a mere 15. Bigger pieces, fewer seams.

Now they’ve released an artist’s conception, above.

Looks pretty cool. But I’ve already noticed some snide comments to the effect of “$6 million? For that?” … “Apple has way too much money to play around with” … and “Hell, they just built the place less than five years ago.”

Those who think this way really don’t get Apple. They don’t get why a company that makes cool little devices just became more valuable than one that supplies the world with the energy essential to life.

For everything you see in Apple, there are a hundred things you don’t see — all of which add up to the feel of quality and caring you don’t get from other companies. It’s a subconscious effect that Apple pursues quite consciously.

I had the pleasure of working on the “Making Of” video for the Cube, which appeared on apple.com when the store was first opened. That video called out the extraordinary effort that went into procuring the quality components necessary to create this store: the stone flooring from Sicily, the stainless steel surfaces from Tokyo, and the glass staircase and cube structure from Germany.

Apple doesn’t expect a single visitor to the Fifth Avenue Cube to think much about the floor they’re walking on. What they’re trying to do is create an overall feeling — that this is a place where people care about design and quality.

It’s the same principle Apple uses when they design product packaging. For items like iPhones and iMacs, they create an “unboxing experience” you will appreciate only once, lavishing attention on parts few people will ever notice. But overall, the experience contributes to the feeling of quality you get before you even touch the product.

Granted, some people think this is overkill. Or, even worse, it’s one more reason to hate Apple. This is how the Great Satan hoodwinks people into buying their overpriced technology.

Fortunately, Apple doesn’t give a hoot about people who don’t recognize or care about quality. That’s not their audience.

As long as they continue to care about the invisible things, the crowds in those Apple Stores will be anything but invisible.

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  • Weili

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Well done!

  • John

    Is Schott Glass the supplier for the glass used in the cube?

  • This is one of the best essays on Apple I’ve read. Thank you for writing it.

  • Rulf

    Problem is, the new “cube” is nearly unrecognizable as a cube. In the second picture, there’s a flying logo, and some panes of glass that form something incoherent. It’s only a cube if you already know it. Which begs the question: Why would you create architecture if it’s invisible?

  • Marian

    @Rulf:
    The first picture is real, the second is a rendering.

  • I love your article on Apple, it’s similar to conversations my wife and I have had about when we host people in our home. I love the quote from author Henri Nouwen- “hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can happen.” Apple is the premier company thinking about hospitality and creating spaces (be it in their stores, online, packaging, advertising, etc) where change can occur.

  • Apple understands that it’s the little details that differentiate their products from a standard Dell/etc… I notice and appreciate the extra polish on everything they do. My macbook has a little magnetic power supply, nice touch, can’t trip on it and bring down your laptop. The camera can detect light levels and tone down your screen in the dark so that it isn’t hard on the eyes. Boot time is near instantaneous. I could go on.

    Those little touches are what make Apple so popular.