How Apple is getting rid of the Genius Bar

Technically Incorrect: In Corte Madera, California, you'll find the first North American Apple store, outside of the one at company HQ Infinite Loop, that doesn't have a genius bar. Don't worry, though, it has lovely new stools.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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This is where your Genius Bar used to be.

Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

My iPhone was charging with all the consistency of two consecutive Donald Trump pronouncements.

This meant one thing: I'd be forced to visit a place that makes me feel like a stray chicken claw inside a KFC bucket.

Yes, I'm talking about my local Apple store, a box whose sweat and airlessness quotients are exceeded only by a Japanese hell train or a very full hotel gym.

I took a very deep breath and wandered in. Immediately I noticed that something very strange had occurred.

There were fewer people in there. No, wait, there was simply more space.

But one thing struck me above all: The Genius Bar had been stolen. It had vanished, I assumed, in some sort of overnight raid.

Instead, they had put down some temporary stools to fill the space. They were elegantly laid out, I had to admit.

"Take a seat on one of those stools," I was told. "Someone will be with you shortly."

I was a touch taken aback. These design obsessives were going to plonk me on a stool? My face surely betrayed confusion.

Within a few minutes, a man sat next to me and asked what my problem was. I wanted to say: "Who would steal a genius bar? What would anyone want with one?"

Instead, I realized that this man, who turned out to be a genius himself, was very happy not to be bellying up to the bar anymore.

"This is a new design, isn't it?" I said, grasping at what remained of my intellect.

"We're the first in North America to have it," he replied, with a touch of chest-puffing.

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Minimalism is in.

Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

This isn't quite true. Apple explained to me afterward that there's a similar store on its Infinite Loop campus. This Corte Madera, California, store was, however, the first in the real North American world (there's nothing real about Cupertino) with this new design concept. It opened just six weeks ago.

Where the geniuses used to sit is now a very large screen that displays vast beauty shots of products. In front of it are the stools, arranged in pairs or in squares of four.

"We like this design better," one genius told me. "It feels more intimate when we're talking to a customer."

A genius who wants to be intimate. This is a rarity.

Speaking as a customer, which I was in this instance, there's something a little less us-and-them when you don't have a physical barrier between us and them.

Apple wouldn't be drawn out on the official thinking behind this new concept. However, when she appeared on CBS' "60 Minutes" at the end of last year, retail head Angela Ahrendts explained that she wanted Apple stores to feel "dynamic."

It's quite hard to experience dynamic feelings when you can't move. So this new design is clearly an attempt to create room for dynamism.

Sixty percent of US Apple stores were opened before even the iPhone came out. The company announced last year that it intended to renovate 20 of its US stores. The next to receive the Corte Madera treatment was the one in Albany, New York. Stores in Europe, China and Dubai have already been exposed to this look as well.

But back to the stools. I was mesmerized.

They're square but have a round indentation for your bottom. They look like they were made by the local craftsman who comes into the pizza restaurant with his dog, only for you to wonder why he's always alone and what had his last lover done to him. All you know is that he puts a lot of heart into his stools.

I wandered around them, wondering what they reminded me of.

Then it struck me. As I took up an angle facing the big screen, this felt a little like a museum of modern art.

If the place isn't full, you can easily sit down and stare as the beauty shots waft from one to the next, like those audio-visual exhibits from recent art school graduates do in museums.

The genius couldn't fix my phone, though he tried. It needed replacing. The charging port was wrecked. Clearly I was charging it wrong.

But I've been to this Apple store many times before and not always had perfect service. This time, the staff seemed a touch more spirited, buoyant even.

Perhaps, beyond the fact that they admitted they'd had a little retraining, the new design dynamism is working for them.

Or perhaps they too are just mesmerized by the stools.

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A little like a museum from this angle?

Chris Matyszczyk/CNET
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