After two years, Today at Apple is outgrowing Apple Stores

It’s impossible to talk about Apple retail in 2019 without mentioning Today at Apple. The program of creative sessions has become a primary force driving the philosophy, architecture, and organization of all Apple Stores since it was rolled out globally two years ago this week. Those two years have been marked by a maturing session curriculum that has sharpened Today at Apple’s focus and expanded its reach. The program has evolved so much, in fact, that it is beginning to outgrow the stores it was designed for.

12″ MacBook

When Today at Apple ramped up in 2017, only a handful of stores featured a design tailored for larger events. Most locations were still “classic” stores with a standard Genius Bar. At the time, that didn’t seem like a big deal. Most early sessions worked well around a table, and performances were limited to just a few locations like San Francisco’s Union Square.

While the founding goals of Today at Apple haven’t changed, the scope of sessions has. Community feedback and attendance numbers have shaped the type of content Apple offers. In-depth Labs and Walks that venture outside the store have become more common. New flagship stores often host month-long themed event programs. Awareness of Today at Apple has grown on social media. These changes make each store’s gathering area — the Forum — more important than ever.

Today at Apple graphics

From the smallest mall stores to the largest global flagship locations, Apple attempts to offer a nearly identical regular program of sessions. As Today at Apple grows, this puts a strain on the store layout. In mall stores — still the vast majority of Apple’s fleet — the Forum ends up being repurposed as a lounge for support appointments, even when sessions are going on. Customer frustrations around seating, noise, and crowding often stem from these two store functions colliding.

Apple has outgrown suburban malls altogether in the traditional sense. Standard mall stores simply can’t accommodate the layout needed for support and sessions to coexist peacefully. This isn’t a problem solved by opening more locations — it’s a limitation of tenant spaces in malls.

Training Table

In recent stores where Apple has more architectural freedom and square footage to work with, eagle-eyed observers may note a common design pattern emerging. The Forum is separated from the support area when possible, sometimes by a wall and sometimes on a different floor altogether. This idealized layout embodies the original idea of the Genius Grove as a quieter place for assistance. In turn, it allows the Forum to shine as an event space without the constraints of active appointments. The Forum’s responsibilities will only continue to grow as performances and exclusive sessions become more important to Today at Apple in the future.

Standard Apple Store Mall Layout Today at Apple Year in Review

Recent Apple Store layouts. The best designs separate sessions from support.

(Click any image for a larger version.)

Apple has also run up against the confines of malls in terms of content. Recently added sessions explore topics deeper than creative skills and challenge the thinking of participants. Speakers are directly addressing political, societal, and ethical issues in their sessions. Photo Walks — some of the most engaging activities Today at Apple offers — are best experienced in a vibrant outdoor space. Reaching a session’s full potential in notoriously plain and homogenized shopping malls is a challenge. Today at Apple is only at its best when filled with diversity in perspective.