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15 Secrets of Apple Store Employees

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Apple

Apple has 265 retail stores in the United States, employing roughly 100 people at each one. That’s a lot of Apple Store workers with stories to tell about the culture and customers of one of the world’s most iconic retail boutiques. Here are a few things you might not know about your friendly Apple Store employee.

1. THEY WISH YOU KNEW YOUR PASSWORD.

One of the biggest complaints Apple Store employees have about customers is their lack of knowledge for their own personal data. Many people come in needing help with a device or their storage but don’t know their Apple ID or password, which throws a wrench in the process. “People say to you, ‘Figure out my password,’” says Ben, who worked in a Minnesota store for five and a half years. “But if I could figure out your password, what would be the point of having one?” Save yourself (and employees) some time and make sure you know your login information before heading to the store.

2. THEY HATE WHEN YOU USE THE STORE COMPUTERS FOR YOUR OWN BUSINESS.

Those demo devices? They’re for you to use, but they’re not your personal gadgets. “People would make phone calls or they’d change the wallpapers,” says Eric, who worked as a specialist in a Florida Apple Store for two years. “They’d have video chats with friends on Skype for two hours. One guy would come in and write music for his so-called album on one of the computers.”

If you do use the Apple Store devices for personal business, be sure to sign out or risk an embarrassing Facebook update or a new profile picture. “We’ve seen a number of social media accounts left logged in and we’re like, ‘We can have fun here,’” Eric says.

3. THEY KNOW WHEN YOU’RE LYING.

“Lying is never a good idea at the Apple Store,” says James, who spent five years in Apple retail working almost every job. “We know you’re lying, and we have a lot of control to bend the rules to make things work for you, but if we know you’re lying we aren’t going to bend rules.” Whether you dropped your phone in the toilet or had the screen replaced elsewhere, they’ll find out sooner or later. It's best to be upfront. 

4. IF YOU’RE MEAN, THEY’LL DRAG THEIR FEET.

“Be humble, be understanding, and don't be entitled,” advises one Apple Store employee via Reddit. Indeed, Apple Store workers can choose to be your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on your attitude.

“If you act like a huge jerk people will go out of their way to put as many roadblocks as possible in the way,” says Bruce, who left his job as a specialist at an Indiana Apple Store last year. He says if you get huffy with an employee, you’re asking to play the waiting game. “They’ll walk into the back to ‘see what they can do,’ but really they’ll just sit back there and make you wait.”

On the flip side, Bruce says, if you’re exceedingly nice, employees will go out of their way to help you. “I had woman come in once and her laptop had died and it had a slideshow of pictures of her mother who had just passed,” he says. “She was putting together a slideshow for the funeral and she came in at 8:30 and store closed at 9. I stayed until 10:30 helping her, making a slideshow, putting it on a DVD, and sending her off with it.”

5. YOU ARE THE PROBLEM.

“The vast majority of the time, the biggest problem is user error,” says Ben. “They’ve done something wrong or they don’t know how to use the device.”

6. THEY LOVE SEEING VINTAGE DEVICES.

It’s not all about the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch. Most employees have seen their fair share of super old Apple gear. “I had one lady who brought in an Apple IIe,” Eric says. “I used that in middle school.” Products that have not been manufactured for more than five are labeled “vintage” and anything that was discontinued more than seven years ago is “obsolete.” Apple Store employees can’t order parts for these gadgets, but they don’t mind giving them a once-over. “It’s amazing what people will keep,” Eric says. “It goes to show the support and the viability of the products Apple produces that you can see things that are 10 to 12 years old [and] people are still using them.”

7. THEY SEE LOTS OF NAKED PICTURES.

As a general rule, if you don’t want anyone to see it, don’t put it on your computer. “Sometimes you have to transfer people’s photos and all the pictures show up on the screen as you do it,” says James. “I’ve seen whatever you can imagine.”

8. GETTING YOUR SHIRT IS A BIG DEAL.

Landing a job at an Apple Store isn’t easy. “They like to say it’s easier to get into Stanford than to get hired by Apple,” James says. Indeed, a single open position can receive hundreds or even thousands of applicants. Those who get called back go through multiple rounds of intense interviews, and if they land the job, it’ll be weeks of training before they’re released onto the floor of an Apple Store unsupervised.

When a newbie is finally deemed “ready,” he or she is rewarded with an official Apple shirt. “That was kind of like a rite of passage,” Ben says. “Like, ‘Okay, now you’ve arrived. You’ve done with your training now you get to go out on your own.’” But shirts aren’t to be worn outside the store, mostly for branding reasons. Plus, advertising you work in an Apple Store is an easy way to get pestered by the nearest guy with a malfunctioning iPhone.

“One time I put a jacket over my Apple shirt but I unzipped it and someone saw I was an Apple employee,” says Bruce. “He came over and was like, ‘Hey man, I got a problem with my phone, can you fix it?’ I was like, ‘Dude, I’m on lunch.’”

9. REFERRALS ARE KEY.

When it comes to getting a job in Apple retail, referrals are everything. “The closest way to guarantee an interview is to know someone and be referred by someone,” says Ben. “Apple takes those very seriously. They’ll pay employees a referral bonus if they hire someone you refer, like an extra $500 or $1000. If it’s a corporate employee it might be several thousand.”

Apple trusts its employees know when a person might be a good fit within the company culture. Some workers used to carry around special referral cards. If they encountered an exceptional waiter at a restaurant or a wonderful salesperson, they’d give them the card and invite them to apply for a job.

10. THEY CLAP … A LOT.

Morale and enthusiasm are huge parts of the culture at Apple. When employees start their training they go through the ritual of being “clapped in,” according to Ben. “When the new employee walks in the room everybody would clap for them for a long time,” he says. “Almost an uncomfortably long time.” It’s a show of support to get new hires excited about the job. And departing employees are “clapped out.” “On my last day, every Apple employee stopped whatever they were doing and started clapping,” Ben says. “Of course, customers are like, ‘What’s going on?’”

Here’s an example of someone being “clapped-out”:

11. APPLE’S CUPERTINO HEADQUARTERS IS KNOWN AS “THE MOTHERSHIP.”

Apple Store senior staff, like the geniuses and creatives, are flown there for training, all expenses paid.

12. LONGTIME EMPLOYEES GET AWARDS.

Workers who make it to their five-year anniversary are given a plaque signed by Tim Cook. One, signed by Steve Jobs, was going for $2,000 online a few years ago. And on their 10-year anniversary, employees reportedly receive a glass block etched with the Apple logo.

13. CUSTOMER MISTAKES WILL GO UNCORRECTED.

It’s not an iWatch, it’s the Apple Watch. But a good Apple Store worker will let your mistake slide. They don’t want to be rude or embarrass customers. “So many people call the iPod Touch the iTouch,” says Eric. “But trying to correct it is a fruitless effort.”

14. WHEN IT COMES TO WOULD-BE THIEVES, THEY KILL ‘EM WITH KINDNESS.

Apple Stores don’t put security tags on their devices, but that doesn’t mean walking out with a gadget will be a piece of cake. “Our loss prevention [tactic] is being friendly and engaging people in conversation,” says Ben. “We’re trained to stand certain ways, to always be facing the front and to greet every person.” This ensures customers know they’ve been noticed and are being watched, which helps deter theft.

15. THEY’VE WITNESSED APPLE MIRACLES.

For every disgruntled customer, there’s another walking in to restore your faith in humanity. Bruce tells the story of a student whose computer shut down with all his schoolwork on it. Without the funds to purchase a new device, he was out of luck until a stranger overheard his woes and surprised him with a $3500 new computer. “He cried,” Bruce says. “Every once in a while you’ll meet someone who is just a genuinely good human being and you’re like, ‘Not everyone is a total jerk.’ It makes going to work the rest of the day a little bit better.”

11 Forgotten Apple Products

Since Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the computer company has released hit after hit with the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. However, over their 40-year history, Apple has released a few forgotten products. Here are 11 of them.

1. APPLE IPOD BY HP

Believe it or not, Apple wasn’t the only company to make the iconic iPod. In 2004, Apple partnered with Hewlett-Packard (HP) on the HP iPod (or Apple iPod + HP). At the time, Apple didn’t have the same retail reach as it does today and HP didn’t have a portable music player. The companies joined forces to help each other in the growing music market. Apple could sell the iPod (and iTunes) through more retailers, while HP could have “their own” mp3 player. The partnership only lasted for a year, as Apple refused to service and repair the HP iPod.

2. APPLE MACPHONE

In 1982, German designer Hartmut Esslinger was commissioned to come up with a production line for Apple Computer. He conceived the Apple MacPhone prototype, a landline telephone and tablet combination with a connected stylus and Mac operating system. Although the product was never released, the Apple MacPhone was the precursor to the iconic iPhone.

3. IPOD SOCKS

Introduced in 2004, Apple sold iPod Socks in various colors. A six-pack retailed for $29 and were made to stylishly protect an iPod from scrapes and scratches from daily use. Apple later discontinued the iPod Socks in 2012.

4. ADJUSTABLE KEYBOARD

In 1993, Apple released the Apple Adjustable Keyboard that featured the ability to split in half for better ergonomic typing. It came with a separate numeric keypad with function and navigation keys to the right of the numbers. The keyboard retailed for $219, which is about $369 today. Now that’s a lot of money to spend on a keyboard.

5. IPOD HI-FI

In 2006, Apple designed a speaker system made specifically for the iPod called the iPod Hi-Fi. With the hefty price tag of $349, the iPod Hi-Fi was met with criticism due to the lack of battery charging, AM/FM radio tuner, and compatibility with newer iPods and the iPod Shuffle.

It was discontinued a year later and according to an official statement from the computer company, “Apple has decided to focus priorities on the iPod and iPhone and will not be making more iPod Hi-Fi units. There are over 4,000 accessories in the iPod ecosystem and hundreds of speakers systems designed specifically for the iPod, which provide customers with a wide variety of options.”

6. APPLE TIME BAND

The Apple Time Band concept was featured in a Japanese magazine called Axis in 1991. It resembled an Apple Newton personal digital assistant that could be worn on your wrist like a watch. Almost 25 years later, Apple released the Apple Watch.

7. EWORLD

With the emergence of America Online (AOL) during the early '90s, Apple wanted to get Mac users connected to the Internet with eWorld, an online web portal and “Town Hall” that featured email, news, and community bulletin boards. It launched in 1994 with a price tag of $8.95 a month with just two free hours of online time. It cost an additional $7.95 an hour for day time hours or $4.95 for nights and weekends after that. It's no surprise that eWorld ended just two years later. Apple just couldn’t compete with AOL because it was only open for Mac users and didn’t include a web browser.

8. APPLE EMATE 300

In 1997, Apple made a “budget” touchscreen personal digital assistant for the education market called the Apple eMate 300. It ran the Apple Newton OS and was designed for word processing, note taking, and sketching. The Apple eMate 300 also retailed for $799 and was discontinued a year later (along with the entire Apple product line) when Steve Jobs returned to the computer company and released the original iMac.

Photo: Rod Herrea

9. FLOWER POWER IMAC

In early 2001, the “Flower Power” iMac was released after Apple ran out of colors towards the end of the original device's run. It was a throwback edition to Steve Jobs’s hippie roots in the late '60s and early '70s. The Flower Power iMac was considered tacky at the time and was discontinued five months later during the summer. In addition, Apple also released and discontinued a “Blue Dalmatian” iMac, which was blue with white spots.

10. MACINTOSH BASHFUL

During the early '80s, Apple created a tablet prototype called “The Bashful” in reference to one of the Seven Dwarfs from Disney and the computer company’s “Snow White Industrial-Design Language” they used throughout the decade. There were a number of variations of the Apple tablet that included an attached keyboard, a floppy-disk drive, a stylus, and a handle for mobility. It even featured a version that included an attached phone. More than 25 years later, Apple finally released a tablet with the iPad.

11. THE APPLE COLLECTION

Back in 1986, Apple didn’t just make computers and electronic accessories, it also had a fashion and lifestyle product line with The Apple Collection. A year after Steve Jobs left Apple, the company released Apple-branded clothing and accessories, which featured sweatshirts, belts, wristwatches, stadium cushions, sneakers, jean jackets, Swiss Army knives, and playing cards. The Apple Collection even featured a sailboard with a big ol’ Apple logo on its sail for $1100.

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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