It has been nearly seven years since his death, yet Steve Jobs is still enriching lives through Apple. Not with the myriad of devices they’ve designed but through his pursuit of sparking creativity through a greater retail experience. During the announcement of the iPad 2 in 2011, Jobs famously said, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” In that ethos, a collective of free educational sessions called Today at Apple was born.
Since its inception in May 2017, Apple now hosts 18,000 sessions weekly across 506 of its stores for millions of people. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have an iPhone or an iPad—everyone is welcome to attend.
To show their investors (and everyone else) how seriously they’re taking this, Apple has just announced an update to Today at Apple, introducing 58 new sessions globally.
All the new sessions (and existing ones) will be grouped into three formats: Skills, Walks, and Labs. They expand on the most popular sessions like sketch walks and photo labs while giving the entire program a more cohesive structure. It’s also the first time Health & Fitness sessions are offered. Last week, we were invited along with a group of reporters from around the world to Cupertino, California for a preview of these new sessions.
“Just like we update the software on our devices, we always talk about our physical stores as Apple’s largest product,” Angela Ahrendts, Senior Vice President of Retail at Apple told us in a cosy corner of their Apple Park offices. “Today at Apple is the software for the stores, and next week is the newest, largest release that we ever had for [it].”
The fact that all the Today at Apple sessions are free is what differentiates Apple from their competitors. Even as their numbers are slumping — Apple just posted their Q1 2019 earnings call showing a decline in revenue of 5 percent down to US$84.3 billion — they’re still gratuitously providing these free sessions. It’s all part of their ongoing diversification to be more than just a company that sells sexy hardware.
During our visit to Cupertino, we tried our hands at a couple of the new sessions. The most comprehensive was a Video Lab co-created with the award-winning videographer Zach King. Titled “Small Screen Magic,” we were given a peek into King’s world of viral content creation, and were even taught how to film our own little piece of small screen magic.
Other sessions include a skill session with Garageband where we made our own drum patterns, and a walk around Apple Park capturing colours with an iPad Pro to turn into an abstract drawing.
“[Steve] was so ahead of our time because if you look at the future, it is going to be the liberal arts and the creative arts as technological advances,” mused Ahrendts when the conversation turned to Jobs’ vision. “That’s how so many people are going to make a living in the future. We keep all of these things alive, and that is the genesis, the purpose of Today at Apple.”
While all the 58 new sessions will be available at each store globally, each store has the liberty to schedule them based on the needs and wants of the community. There could be photo and video walks planned around the city, for example. Talent-led sessions like that with King, Florence Welch, Chase Jarvis, and Foster + Partners are also in the lineup.
“To make sure that everyone is successful, we designed the sessions in a way that even if you’re a beginner or more advanced, you can enter and have fun and be successful,” said Karl Heiselman, who according to Ahrendts was the visionary behind Today at Apple. “Our mission is to inspire and spark that creativity for you to go forth.”
This new direction that Apple is heading towards is crucial for the future of retail. We’re already seeing stores incorporating technology into the retail experience. Companies big or small can no longer depend on the backbone of physical sales alone. Like Apple, they need to give consumers more than a transaction. They need to augment the experiential factor and give people a reason to come to the stores beyond just buying a product.
But at the core of the future of retail, Jobs is right: technology alone isn’t enough to cut it. Apple’s marriage of technology, liberal arts, and the humanities is just the first step into making retail great again. After all, he said in an interview with Wired from 1996: “Creativity is just connecting things.”
Who knows what tomorrow at Apple will bring.