Remember the scene in ‘Minority Report’ where Tom Cruise gets his retinas scanned at every turn (‘John Anderton! You could use a Guinness right about now,’ the advertising hoarding shouts)? He’s even asked how that last pair of shorts worked out as he walks into a branch of Gap. Remember how it was creepy but seriously cool?
Well, we may not be there yet, but Apple, which revamped its 325 stores this week, is taking steps towards this slightly spooky future. There’s also a new Apple Store app, for iPhone and iPod Touch; naturally, it’s an accomplished tool when you’re at home or on the move and takes on new powers when you enter a store.
As you’d expect, the app on your phone shows you a bunch of featured products from the store, with prices, images and so on. You can add items to the basket and pay for them. So far, so what? It’s just the same as you’d get on the Apple website, though considerably easier to read than browsing the web on your phone.
Tap the Stores tab and the phone’s GPS kicks in to tell you where your nearest stores are, with opening hours, phone number and directions to get there courtesy of the maps app. There are regular workshops and events at all Apple Stores and you can check the calendar for the ones at this store here.
You can also reserve some products to pick up in store, like an Apple TV, Mac or iPod. Better still, you can reserve a session at the Genius Bar – the team of Apple experts who will advise you how to solve a problem and offer free technical support. And if you are a One to One member, you can book in for a workshop, personal project session and more. One to One is the service you can buy with your new Apple computer and gives you multiple extensive training and help sessions. They’ll transfer all the data from your old PC or Mac to your new one. It costs £79 for a year. You can also sign in for this on the Apple website.
Walk into the store, and the spookiness starts. Launch the app and as you walk in the door you get a message on screen, something like: "Hi David, Welcome to the Apple Store, Covent Garden. You have a Genius Bar appointment scheduled at 11:00am. Would you like to check in now?"
Assuming you’re not completely freaked out by this and run out the door while you still can, you’ll be sent a push notification when your Genius is ready, complete with their name and photograph and where they’re going to meet you. It’s not clear whether you should be wearing a carnation to help them recognise you but, hey, they’re a genius, they can work it out.
But supposing you don’t have an iPhone or iPod Touch yet? There’s a kind of diluted future experience available. Where previously a simple card told you what the price and specs of an iPhone were, there’s now a Smart Sign – basically a modified iPad – on the table. The screen has the same information as the card. But now you can swipe down the touchscreen to reveal extra details, including available tariffs and comparisons of the phone networks. Where a card would need to be regularly replaced, the Smart Sign automatically updates as details change.
There’s also a tab on the screen marked specialist. Touch this and the nearest available staffer is alerted. Their name and photo appears on screen as they make their way to help you. They can answer questions and if you want to buy, their cleverly modded iPod touch can even be swiped to take your credit card payment.
It’s a slick system, and may mean you don’t have to join a queue to pay for an item, assuming you’re not paying by cash. After you’ve bought, you can go to the Personal Setup area where you’ll be shown how to operate your new purchase, how to download apps and so on.
It’s not perfect: the Smart Signs are locked to the table so if it’s too high for you to see, if you’re in a wheelchair perhaps, you could struggle. And if you’re not a gadget person, buying something for a relative, say, you could be daunted by the fact that you need to operate an iPad to get some details or attract someone’s attention. Mind you, there’s no simpler device to use, and you could always, you know, talk to a member of staff if you prefer.
In a world where automated checkouts at supermarkets are increasingly common, Apple’s new store advances are appealing and highly useful. Apple stores are stunningly designed and enjoyable to be in and these latest touches are in keeping with that styling. And much less unsettling than retinal scans. Although, one day, maybe…