The Apple Product No One is Talking About (and Why Educators Should Care)

In the space between iOS11 and MacOS High Sierra, I wanted to offer a few words not he big product Apple announced that (with some exceptions) has gotten little to no air time. 

I'm talking about the Apple Town Squares, formerly known as the Apple Stores.

It's worth listening to what Tim Cook and Angela Ahrendts talk about, in terms of the relationship of space and purpose, beginning four minutes and four seconds into the Apple Keynote of 12 September 2017. They spoke of the design philosophy behind Apple Park and the Apple Town Squares. Cook spoke about how Steve Jobs set out to "inspire talented people to do their best work" and that the retail spaces were designed to be "about learning, inspiring, and connecting with people" as much as it was about retail. Ahrendts spoke about the redesign of the flagship stores to serve as "gathering places for 500 million people" and that they are "Apple's largest product".

If you listen to the way they spoke about Apple's facilities, they can easily describe some of the central aspects of a University. In case that is less than immediately apparent, here are some of the parallels between Apple's facilities and a university's -- if the clearly intentional parallel was not driven home enough when Ahrendts linked the Creative Pros to the Liberal Arts and the Genius to Technology (STEM, for those attached to the current nomenclature of the university):

The Plaza = The Quad

The Forum = The Classroom

The Board Room = Library Study Spaces

The Genius Grove = Faculty Office Hours

The Avenues = The Student Union, with its opportunities for students

Her talk highlighted Apple's efforts to offer Lifelong Learning opportunities -- for free -- to its community. Those who are in the business of supplying such opportunities to potential students at local universities should both take note, as Apple appears to be doing this in a more compelling and targeted manner than universities are, and be alarmed, as Apple is beginning to eat the lifelong learning lunch.

There is more, however. Apple Park and Apple's Town Squares are described in a language that, as I suggested, parallel the university. Given that universities are trying to figure out how to bring students to their campuses in an age when, quite frankly, there aren't enough students to go around and online learning and similar innovations might keep potential students away, Apple's successful strategies should be examined closely by those teams trying to figure out how to differentiate their campus in a way that makes it a compelling destination.

Dr. Matthew M. DeForrest is a Professor of English and the Mott University Professor at Johnson C. Smith University. The observations and opinions he expresses here are his own. You are very welcome to follow him on Twitter and can find his academic profile at