Preview: Inside Apple's Redesigned NYC Flagship Store

Apple’s Manhattan venue resets the bar for the retail tech-buying experience

Front entrance to the Apple Store Fifth Ave. New York
The Apple Store, Fifth Ave. New York.

 Lance Ulanoff / Lifewire

Apple’s business may be transforming from one driven almost entirely by a passionate devotion to beautiful hardware to one idolizing code and, especially, services, but the reimagined Apple Fifth Ave. flagship Store in Manhattan is a reminder that the physical still matters very much to the California-based company.

The 13-year-old store, which sits at the base of Central Park and is instantly recognizable thanks to its iconic 32-foot glass cube with a suspended Apple logo inside of it, has undergone a massive, 2-year-long reinvention project that somehow maintains the core essence of what drew hundreds of people to the store to line up for their first iPhones more than a decade ago.

Apple Store Fifth Avenue Plaza
The all new Apple Store Fifth Avenue Plaza. Lance Ulanoff / Lifewire

The 77,000 square foot space (up from 32,000) remains a showcase for Apple’s newest hardware, including the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max and its new Apple Watch Series 5 (all of which launch in retail on September 20). It still features the instantly recognizable hardwood Apple tables (though they are much longer) and a Genius Bar (also much longer) and is still open, in a very New York City fashion, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

But a lot has changed, as well.

Going Big

First of all, the store itself, which sits below ground, is a much larger and more cavernous space, with a significantly higher ceiling.

Inside Apple Store Fifth Avenue Store
Inside Apple Store Fifth Avenue Store.  Lance Ulanoff / Lifewire

In a broader sense, Apple and its long-time architectural partners Foster + Partners sought to connect the store even more deeply to the city and, yes, Apple’s products, while also making changes to push the space forward and toward a deeper connection with the community.

Apple Store Plaza
These seats are also skylights.  Lance Ulanoff / Lifewire

Outside the glass box, the Apple Store Plaza is starkly different with 28 honey locusts trees and 18 of what Apple is calling Sky Lenses dotting the space. Resembling gleaming stainless-steel mushrooms, they’re both seats fo visitors and portals of light that connect directly to physical skylights that reach right through into the Apple store space.

Apple Store Fifth Avenue new spiral staircase
Apple Store Fifth Avenue's new spiral staircase.  Apple Store Fifth Avenue new spiral staircase

Another major change and one that I appreciate most is the redesigned spiral staircase. I always felt like Apple founder Steve Job’s love of glass was carried a step too far with the all-glass staircase that demanded your focused attention as you descended. The update replaces glass steps with mirror-polished stainless steel that features a recognizable (and perhaps more safety-friendly) pattern atop each one. To me, each tread appeared both wider and deeper, winding around a reflective metal column in what one architect told me is a turbine-inspired design.

Apple Store Skylight
The skylights bring outside light into the store.  Lance Ulanoff / Lifewire

Inside, you can glance up at the scalloped ceiling and essentially see Manhattan through each of the circular skylight portals. Those lenses also bring a lot more daylight into the below-ground space.

What Color is Your Lighting

Even with all those ceiling ports, there's not enough natural light to illuminate the whole store. Each portal is ringed with dozens of LED lights, and in true Apple fashion, the entire lighting system is designed to adjust to match the outdoor, natural light throughout the day. Like your tiny Philips Hue light, the color temp can be adjusted manually, or by using the sensors Apple has outside the store. I saw a brief demo where someone used their Apple iPad to change the color temperature from bright daylight to a warm sunset hue. The goal here is to make people feel as comfortable inside the store as they would outside of it. It kind of reminded me of casinos pumping in oxygen to keep people alert, inside, and gambling.

Apple Store Ceiling
Changing the light temperature in the Apple Store. Lance Ulanoff / Lifewire

Apple applied a number of other design touches, as well, including bringing the Castagna stone that is all over Steve Jobs Theater into the two new North and South entrances. They also created a new Apple Today space that features a giant screen with crates and bounce-ball seating. Apple Today is Apple’s free in-store learning session program that often covers art, music, photography, and other creative- and community-related pursuits. For the record, though, I will never sit on a bounce ball for an entire Apple Today Session.

Outside In

Apple’s also brought some greenery inside the store, including a foliage wall and trees with brown leather seating encircling each thin trunk. It’s here where I think Apple may have achieved its goal of blurring the lines between interior and exterior spaces.

Inside the Apple Store
The iconic, wood Apple tables are there and longer than ever.  Lance Ulanoff / Lifewire

The ultra-long tables are, naturally, filled with Apple products and milling around them are Apple “Team Members,” smiling benignly at you and asking politely if you have any questions. When the Apple Store first launched in 2006, it employed 300. The reimagined store has 900 team members, the majority of which are bilingual (in total, they speak 36 languages).

Apple’s Fifth Ave. Store is beautiful in a stark, slightly Bauhaus sort of way, and has the potential to be a vibrant public space. It's still just a store, of course, but also the coolest place you can buy a $999 phone. It officially reopens September 20.

Check out this ultra-wide, time lapse walk-through I shot on my iPhone 11 Pro Max.