By Jason Snell
September 13, 2017 4:44 PM PT
A visit to Apple Park
Tuesday was a big day. iPhone X. iPhone 8. Apple TV 4K. Apple Watch Series 3. But the biggest product unveil of all? No contest: It was Apple Park.
I’ve told more than one Apple PR person that I could get to Infinite Loop in my sleep. And on some early mornings it’s felt like I almost have. But this time, I bypassed the De Anza Blvd. exit on Interstate 280 South and instead went down another exit, to Wolfe Road. (That’s right, the two campuses are one freeway exit apart. It’s about a 1.5-mile drive between them on surface streets.)
There’s a lot of construction still going on on the periphery of Apple Park. As I drove down Wolfe Road, I noticed that there’s a main entrance at “Apple Park Way” that’s blocked off entirely. On Homestead Road, there are small single-family houses right across the street from Apple Park—or more accurately, from trees and a sidewalk and more trees and a fence and more trees and a berm and then Apple Park. But still, if you wanted to live literally right across the street from Apple Park, you could.
Attendees of the event were asked to park at the new Apple Park Visitor Center, which is at the corner of Tantau and Pruneridge. Beneath the building is a multi-story underground parking garage. The building itself is a glass-walled box that’s very much recognizable as an Apple building. It is, in fact, an unusual sort of Apple Store.
Roughly three-quarters of the building is indeed devoted to Apple Retail: It’s a full-on Apple Store. But like the Apple Store at the Infinite Loop campus, this store has a few special extras, including six colors of Apple Logo and Apple Park t-shirts. Through a pair of glass doors on either side of a divider wall is the other quarter of the building, which is a small cafe complete with coffee bar and wooden tables and chairs, all in the same design style as the Apple Stores themselves.
I wonder what the vibe in the cafe will be? And I wonder if Apple Retail head Angela Ahrendts might use it as an experiment to see if some lessons learned there could be exported to the rest of the Apple Stores around the world. In any event, it looks like if you visit Apple Park, you’ll be able to get a coffee, at least.
Across the street from the Visitors Center was a glass building (yes, they’re apparently all this way at Apple Park) that functions as an entry gate. From there, we went up a gently winding path that took us to the top of the hill that houses the Steve Jobs Theater.
The lobby is an all-glass-walled circle with no visible supports other than the glass itself, which is pretty nifty. It was devoid of furniture when we were there, perhaps out of a concern for crowds. Outside there’s a very nice view across a field to the main Apple Park ring, which is enormous even when seen from a distance. It’s very clearly a newly-planted landscape, however. There are trees and plants placed everywhere, with room for them to grow and spread, and the smell of fertilizer was extremely strong.
Once they began seating the theater for the event, we were allowed to go down two curved stone staircases that led below ground level. At the bottom of the stairs, we entered the theater itself—from the very top, at the back of the theater. So if you wanted to get down to the stage itself, you’d be walking down another flight of steps.
The Steve Jobs Theater had that new-theater smell, thanks to its thousand leather seats, each with a power outlet in a foot below. I sat in the upper sections, where there were armrests between seats. Down in the flat section at the very bottom of the theater, seats appeared to be more bench-like (or pew-like?), with fold-down arm rests. It’s not as big a space as some of the ones Apple has used for launch events, but it’s still quite big, and it’s entirely controlled by Apple. (I’m happy to report that the leg room in the Steve Jobs Theater is much, much better than at the small Town Hall conference center Apple had previously used for on-campus media events.)
The presentation’s slides and videos were played by a 4K HDR projector, according to Eddy Cue, and the screen looked great—and sounded great, too. It would be, as John Gruber pointed out on Twitter, a great place to see a movie.
At the end of the presentation, the doors at the top of the theater popped open, revealing that there’s a room on that level that can be hidden (via a turning circular divider) from people coming down the stairs from the entry lobby. With that divider spun around, it was a bright, open area containing the hands-on area showing off all the new Apple products that had just been unveiled.
Because if you’re Apple and you’re custom-building your own event space, of course you’re going to have a secret hands-on area. How could you not?
The fact is, the Steve Jobs Theater and the entire Apple Park campus are Apple products. Of course they look like Apple Stores. Of course they have custom-designed stone staircases and beautiful wood furniture. When you’re a company that has built its entire identity around design and style, from hardware to software to the contents of retail stores, it’s awfully hard to just build a glass office tower and call it a day. If you’ve ever imagined what an Apple Store would look like if it sprawled over 175 acres, well, it’s called Apple Park.
When all was said and done and seen, I went upstairs and outside and sat down on one of the wood benches that surround the lobby. I wrote a quick article for Macworld while about five different live TV interviews happened behind me. It was warm, much warmer at the top level than it was down in the theater. Then it was time to head down the sloping, curving path, back to the Visitor’s Center.
One of these days I’d like to see the main building at Apple Park. But as Tim Cook suggested Tuesday, it may be a while before everyone’s properly settled in. Maybe I’ll get my chance. But I realize that most people never will. Infinite Loop has become a destination for Apple fans who visit the Bay Area, so much so that Apple has tried to take steps to adjust to that, like adding some customer parking and converting the Company Store into a proper Apple Store.
With Apple Park, Apple has built the assumption that people will want to visit right into its plans. You could call the existence of an Apple Park Visitor Center presumptuous or arrogant, but I think it’s really pragmatic. The visitors are going to come. So Apple has built them a pretty destination… and put it just across the street.
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