While there are as many stories on the new Apple phones as the number of units that will sell, what was even bigger and significant was the brand-new purpose built facility they were launched in.
After closely monitoring drone video footage like we all had stake invested in the construction company, the geek media was finally ushered into the mythical space for the big tenth anniversary special event.
Sure, we all had speculated about the iPhone X leaks and the iterative upgrades that would become the iPhone 7S (the badge it really should’ve worn), but nothing could’ve prepared me for the visual drama and physical scale of the Apple Park.
Yes, that’s what they’re officially calling it and for good reason since a grand total of 10000 trees have been planted on the landscaped grounds that was once acres and acres of asphalt! If you’re still counting, that’s about 5 millions square feet of the grey stuff replaced by a lot of the green stuff.
Like all things Apple though, there was an element of secrecy involved and we were methodically steered only in the direction of the Visitors Centre and the Steve Jobs Theatre - the only two parts of the campus that are in 100% state of completion.
But from atop the small hill on which these facilities are situated, the long-distance view of the “ring” building evokes a sense of cult. You want to belong and believe in the powers that created it and few modern buildings are capable of such profound effect.
Not surprisingly, Steve Jobs had envisioned this space before his untimely demise and Jony Ive was as instrumental in making key design decisions, just like he does with Apple’s products. It is going to make headlines not just for its aesthetic, but even its environmental statement since it’s the largest building in the world that is going to be powered entirely by renewable energy.
The top of the ring is swathed in solar panels that will produce 17 megawatts of power using the bright California sun. Incidentally, it’s designed with such ingenuity that it won’t require any heating or air-conditioning for nine months of the year.
The entire building can move 4.5ft horizontally in the event of an earthquake and that in itself is an engineering feat that would send most architectural design firms into a spiral. Foster+Sons have managed to deliver on Apple’s vision and how!
A lot of superlatives make up for the ring building, including the world’s largest cafeteria, possibly the largest fitness centre in any company HQ at 100000 sq.ft and the building itself which is covered entirely with the largest panels of single-piece curved glass in the world.
As a whole, even from a distance, it is awe-inspiring and a calling card big enough to attract the world’s biggest talent too!
X rated materials
Moving my attention behind me and I’m reminded of the Apple stores in Shanghai and NYC. The Steve Jobs Theater rises above the ground in the form of just a glass cylinder, 165ft in diameter without any pillars on the inside and a simplistic metallic carbon fibre roof for shelter.
The starkness is amplified with its use of materials and colours. The floor may look like tile but is made up of a special concrete that is poured directly on site so there is no transition or lines between the individual steps. Just a smooth, even flowing staircase from the top step to the bottom and it continues blending into the floor itself, without any joint.
The roof itself is designed with concentric circles and acoustically it has the effect of turning a whisper into an echo that makes the space sound as dramatic as it looks. The main auditorium is underground which is accessed either by the said staircase or a cylindrical glass elevator that rotates around its own axis while it's descending into the bowels of the theatre.
A tiny element of surprise that injects wonder into the ordinary and again, a display of fanatic attention to detail.
The first glimpse of the Steve Jobs Theater holding area can leave you speechless. The arched stairwells from either side flanking the main foyer that has the name of the venue etched on to the stone is a gentle reminder of the modern-day genius who happens to be the one who divided the modern world into BI (before iPhone) and AI (after iPhone).
The purpose built hands-on area is massive, with typical Apple store-like wooden tables peppered all around for journalists and guests to experience the products, but even this area felt like a sardine can on the day of the iPhone X launch.
Moving inside the theatre itself, the 1000-seater auditorium is equipped with the latest generation Dolby Vision projectors that paint a spectacular looking picture on the mammoth screen. But the layout and the seating itself is strangely conventional in comparison to the futuristic looking exterior.
Theater seating with two aisles and tan coloured chairs don’t break any new ground. Every seat gets a much-needed power point though, alleviating any hypertension for a typical live blogger.
In tune with nature
Back over in the Visitor Center and the oohs and aahs continue with an airy, friendly vibe that is consistent with all Apple stores. Individual niches for different product categories are beautifully designed and curated with the right shades, shapes and hue of accessories, lifting up the ambience to a level where the ‘spendorphines’ go straight to the head.
Today at Apple is a concept that aims to build a community of artists, professionals or enthusiasts who want to learn new technologies in collaboration with an expert whose prodding actions on the screen are replicated on the big, centrally located screen in real time.
It’s interactive, fun and definitely walks the line that Steve Jobs used to - liberal arts and technology. But the piece-de-resistance here is the 5 tonne scale model of the Apple Park that is built out of aluminium and follows design cues from MacBooks and their curved edges.
Designed to support Augmented Reality, its partnering app on the iPad unravels the hidden secrets of the Apple Park like how the solar energy is distributed through the campus and also shows how the cooling system is designed to use natural ventilation from all sides of the ring building.
You can even take the roof off the Steve Jobs Theater and take a peek inside, because not everyone will or can make their way down to the auditorium. Even the Ring building's roof can be lifted to get a look at the offices inside, and a slider allows you to change the setting from day to night and everything in between with beautiful light shading effects and even a dynamic sun position that changes with time.
Run your fingers on the exquisitely crafted scale model and you can feel the minor topographical and elevation changes moulded on to the table and the AR experience on the iPad makes it so much more real that it may have been the best AR experience I’ve ever had.
More than just a smartphone
The hype surrounding every new launch that will take place in this campus might have its ebb and flows, but the design and timelessness of the Apple Park will surely keep the legacy of the brand alive.
Steve Jobs would've approved and the loyal army of fanboys that he’s left behind definitely couldn’t have enough of this creation.
For me, it left a deeper impression than the full screen iPhone on that day. And I won’t have to like it any lesser when the iPhone 13 comes out in 2023 either.