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Apple reopens flashy, redesigned Fifth Avenue NYC store

Apple's flagship "cube" is once again open for business.

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Apple's redesigned flagship Fifth Avenue store is once again open for business. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple on Friday will take the wraps off its latest and biggest store redesign: its Fifth Avenue location in New York. CNET got a sneak peek at the revamp on Thursday. 

The new store, which is in the same location right off of Central Park on 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, is double the size of the old one. New adjustments to the plaza above ground include a redesigned outdoor plaza with added trees and small pools of water, which will be turned off in the winter. New "Skylenses" are mirrored seating areas with glass centers that allow natural light into the store and sky views from inside the store, while giving viewers above ground a bird's-eye look below. 

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As part of the attempt to be a more communal space and less like a traditional store, the Fifth Avenue store has trees and foliage inside as well. Updated LED lighting adjusts over the course of the day to match the color temperature of the light outside, a feature similar to the iPhone's Night Shift mode that gradually makes the screen warmer as nightfall approaches.

There are plenty of tables to accommodate Apple's latest iPhones, Apple Watches, iPads and Macs, while a large screen at the front of the store has seating space for presentations and events. There are new "boardrooms" available for businesses looking to learn more about incorporating Apple into their workflow, while the back has a listening room for HomePods

An expanded Genius Bar now runs the length of the store, which has 900 employees who can speak 36 languages. 

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The new stainless-steel staircase brings you down the main entrance. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Also new: The classic glass spiral staircase has been replaced in the revamped space and is now made of stainless steel. There are also two new entrances and exits if you don't want to take the main stairs. 

Apple dismantled its 32-foot cube -- one of New York's major tourist attractions -- in 2017 ahead of renovations and temporarily relocated the store. Earlier this month, it displayed rainbow-tinted glass on the cube's walls ahead of the reopening.  

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The store is one of the first major openings since Deirdre O'Brien, Apple's HR chief, took over as head of retail. The longtime Apple executive added the role to her responsibilities after Angela Ahrendts left the company in April. Ahrendts, formerly CEO of fashion company Burberry, was the first Apple executive to oversee the company's physical stores and its online retail efforts. 

While at Apple, Ahrendts oversaw major changes in the company's retail operations. She streamlined the company's systems and processes and sought to turn physical Apple stores into community gathering places, not just locations to make a purchase. The new store architecture -- developed along with Apple Chief Designer Jony Ive -- included "Genius Groves" for tech support and "avenues" with long tables and little shops to give the feeling of being in a town square. Apple also has been remodeling older stores with the updated design. 

Ive, who left Apple in June, was involved in the design of the updated Fifth Avenue location as well, Stefan Behling, head of studio and senior executive partner at design firm Foster and Partners, said during Thursday's press preview.

Behling's firm has long worked with Apple on its retail and physical locations, including Apple Park, the company's new headquarters in Cupertino, California. 

But the new stores have faced some criticism. There's no clear place to make purchases (store employees typically wander around with iPhones to process payments), and some experiments, like having people make appointments to buy the Apple Watch when it first launched, have failed. 

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A large screen with a seating area is available for presentations and events. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple's Fifth Avenue store is its biggest and one of its most profitable. The location, which first opened in May 2006, has long operated for 24 hours a day, drawing in both New Yorkers and tourists visiting the city. It has become one of the most photographed spots in Manhattan.

Apple last renovated its Fifth Avenue store in 2011, overhauling the facade and "simplifying" the design of its iconic glass cube "by using larger, seamless pieces of glass." 

O'Brien, speaking at the company's iPhone 11 launch last week in Cupertino, called the latest revamp the "biggest store reopening ever."

"Inside everything's been completely transformed," she said. "We dramatically increased the height and doubled the size."