'Apple Cafe' from 1996 shows early work on branded retail presence

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Designers of an "Apple Cafe," what may have been the predecessor to the Apple Store, have revealed in an interview about what could have been, just prior to Steve Jobs's return to the company.



Images courtesy Landmark Entertainment Group.


The process began at some point in 1996, according to Landmark Entertainment Group founder Tony Christopher, when Apple was starting to look beyond the traditional computer retailer model and sales from department stores that existed at the time.

"They didn't know exactly what they wanted to do at first. I don't know if they had the idea for a cafe or that was something we came up with, " said Christopher to Co.Design in an interview focusing on the concept. "It was the world's first cybercafe. There wasn't a cybercafe at this time, and a lot of people who didn't have computers were looking for a way to go use them. Back in 1998, this was a radical idea!"

The designs for the cafe very much represent a future-view looking forward from roots in a neon-soaked late-'80s and early-'90s perspective. The sketches shown in the interview are reminiscent of an evolution of Apple's Performa advertising, and design language at the time.




"The interior design was very high tech, and we worked on it for about six months," said Christopher. "We understood that we were dealing with a computer, which was a future technology not a historic technology, and the Apple Cafe had to reflect that."

The "Apple Cafe" as envisioned had food service, paraphernalia retail, user support, and computer sales all rolled into a common gathering place.

"The whole thing went to Steve Jobs, and basically when he saw it, he liked it, but he put it on hold because he had this idea for an Apple Store," added Christopher. "It's interesting because this was not Apple as Apple is today. They were just a computer company. But they were interested in, again, making computers for everyone."




Five years after the possible birth of the concept, Apple's first retail store opened up at Tyson's Corner Mall, in McLean, Virginia on May 19, 2001, despite being numbered second, behind the Glendale Galleria store in California that opened a few hours later on the same day.

Apple's initial batch of stores are purely retail and support establishments, with small, if any, gathering spaces for presentations surviving remodels. More recent stores have central groves or wide-open spaces. None serve food, with only a few stocking any Apple paraphernalia such as pens or t-shirts anymore.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    bitmodbitmod Posts: 267member
    That design...
  • Reply 2 of 12
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,796member
    "It's interesting because this was not Apple as Apple is today. They were just a computer company. But they were interested in, again, making computers for everyone."

    The circle of life.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 12
    So glad Steve returned. The brand was in the toilet, sales were in a slump, they had too many products, etc and they are thinking up extremely complicated (and expensive) ways to try and help?
  • Reply 4 of 12
    Glad Steve came back and repositioned the Apple Store to the iconic look it has now. It's revolutionized store layouts, for the better. If only other stores would grok that I just want to get my items, and get out, that'd make life much easier at other stores (though I suppose Ron Johnson's big flop at JCP means it can't just be applied directly eslewhere).
  • Reply 5 of 12
    anomeanome Posts: 1,291member

    It looks to me a bit like the Café 80s from Back to the Future Part II. That was a vision of how the future would see the past, while this is kind of the classic how the past saw the future, both filtered through the late 80s and early 90s.

    [EDIT] Fixed italics.

    edited February 2017 jbishop1039irelandpscooter63
  • Reply 6 of 12
    Looks like something out of Back to the Future 2. Love the Mission Impossible and Independence Day posters and the neon lined Apple logo. And FTR, I'd definitely be hanging out there. Even if it looked like that today. Hell, I'd love to work there. I like the idea of an Apple Café, even if it was nestled inside an Apple Store.
  • Reply 7 of 12
    eriamjheriamjh Posts: 1,138member

    A lot of people thought the Apple stores were not going be successful because Gateway stores were dying at the same time Apple was rumored to be looking into it.

    The truth is Apple could have probably done anything in 2001 because its iPod's were selling like hotcakes (gotta love them hotcakes), and everyone WANTED them. 

    The rather unusual concept above would have failed in 1996 because Apple's products did not have the perceived value they have today.  A 2001 Apple store in 1996 would have failed, too, with Apple's 1996 line up of Performas, Newtons, eMates, and other "junk".

    Jobs cleaned house at Apple.  It needed cleaning.  Now they make billions on products the "Mac Forum internet Users" think suck (OMG, no headphone jack!).  But someone must like them because they keep selling and making Apple money.


  • Reply 8 of 12
    eriamjh said:

    A lot of people thought the Apple stores were not going be successful because Gateway stores were dying at the same time Apple was rumored to be looking into it.

    The truth is Apple could have probably done anything in 2001 because its iPod's were selling like hotcakes (gotta love them hotcakes), and everyone WANTED them. 

    The rather unusual concept above would have failed in 1996 because Apple's products did not have the perceived value they have today.  A 2001 Apple store in 1996 would have failed, too, with Apple's 1996 line up of Performas, Newtons, eMates, and other "junk".

    Jobs cleaned house at Apple.  It needed cleaning.  Now they make billions on products the "Mac Forum internet Users" think suck (OMG, no headphone jack!).  But someone must like them because they keep selling and making Apple money.


    Hey!!
    Performas of the mid '90s had more "firsts" in them than anything Apple has ever done since. Same with the PowerBooks.

    "Junk"??  ...Please.
  • Reply 9 of 12
    Mikeymike said: Performas of the mid '90s had more "firsts" in them than anything Apple has ever done since. Same with the PowerBooks.

    "Junk"??  ...Please.
    The Performas were budget-orientd versions of Apple's more serious machines and were intended to compete more directly with the mainstream PCs of they day. They weren't junk, but they weren't as desirable as their more pro-oriented look-alikes. Thanks to Apple's idiotic emphasis on sales without the marketing to back it up created quite a mess. I remember seeing boxes of Performas stacked eight high, five wide and three deep against the front wall of a Computer City (120 of them, going nowhere). Nobody was buying them, but Apple's sales guys had been forcing them into the channel so that they could meet their quotas and earn their bonuses. Embarrassing.

    One can see in the third illustration, the abortive Apple "themes" that they had been playing with; the idea being that people could change the look of their UI to all sorts of Apple and third-party looks (including the Sponge Bob / Tinkertoy look seen in the menu bar, but Apple only demoed them, then offered just two: blue and graphite, ditching the wilder options before they hit the streets. Apple decided that the Mac OS must have a look that clearly identified the Mac as being different than a PC and not some random user-selectable look. This was also in the day of the Copland disaster. Apple really was in serious disarray. 

    As for the flashy clashing colors and overt techy look, innovative art back then was largely related to the advancement of Photoshop (along with KPT) and 3-D apps, with designers tending to go over the top. TechTool Pro (which is still around) had an interface featuring a metallic-sounding robot voice speaking prompts and with all sorts of visual depth to the UI. It would be laughable by today's standards, but people thought it was pretty cool in the day.
    boodlepscooter63
  • Reply 10 of 12
    I wish the Apple Store sold paraphernalia. I'm not super far from their headquarters but fifty miles is a far way to go just for a t-shirt. Maybe if Cafe Macs was open to the public! I miss their lunch!
  • Reply 11 of 12
    "It was the world's first cybercafe. There wasn't a cybercafe at this time, and a lot of people who didn't have computers were looking for a way to go use them. Back in 1998, this was a radical idea!"

    Seriously? There were oodles of electronic cafes back then. Sure, most of them were on ISDN or a frame relay if you were lucky.

    I ran a higher-end one in Santa Fe that Apple visited during this time, in 1996. We had all Apple gear, network accounts, websites for each customer, CU-See Me, network gaming, classes, regular visits from Guy Kawasaki, Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Dave Mark, etc. 
     Gee, I wonder where they got the idea?
  • Reply 12 of 12
    Clip-art was all the rage in 1996! Looks retro-cool - like the pasts version of the future, which is nothing like the future we got...
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