Welcome to the Steve Jobs Theater

Apple Park and the Steve Jobs Theater

Apple Park’s main building — the ring — is simply massive. Driving past it on the way to yesterday’s event, it was hard not to be awed.

I arrived around 8:30 for the 10:00 event, and the theater’s pavilion-style lobby and surrounding outdoor patio were already jam-packed. It truly is a beautiful structure. But it wasn’t until later in the day, as I was leaving after a few product briefings, that I got to see what it looked like empty. It’s stunning. The roof is supported only by the glass walls. There are no support columns. It seems impossible, and the effect is amazing. (They run electricity to the roof through the narrow spacers between the window panes.)

The theater and visitor center are quite a bit removed from the main building. There is a large expanse of undulating mounds of grass and trees between them. From the patio outside the theater, though, the view of the main building is simply spectacular. It looks more like an idealized CGI rendering of how the main building is supposed to look, rather than a photograph showing how it really looks. The sight lines have been designed exquisitely — along the path to the theater and from its patio, all you see is nature, and then, the main building.

It rained unusually heavily for Cupertino the night before. This rendered the theater patio’s granite sidewalk incredibly slippery. (The same was true for the patio surrounding the visitor center building.) Numerous Apple employees were positioned every few meters warning guests to watch their steps. I know heavy rain is unusual in Cupertino, but I expect after this these sidewalks will be redone with a different surface finish.

On the stairs leading down from the lobby to the theater itself, the handrails are carved out of the stone walls. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s like descending into a large bright atrium that was entirely carved out of stone. It feels built to last, to say the least.

The theater itself is great. The screen is perfect: it doesn’t curve, it doesn’t wrap around the entire front of the theater. It’s just a big, bright, great fucking screen. The audio was stunning: loud and clear with bass that shook your seat. The seats themselves are comfortable, padded with supple leather (reminiscent or perhaps identical to the leather on the benches in the newest flagship Apple Stores). The ceiling is impressively high — particularly striking for an underground theater — but the acoustics are simply perfect. I would love to watch movies in this theater.

The hands-on area looked beautiful, and the retractable wall is a nifty architectural trick. It looks like the wall is supposed to be there when the area is closed, and looks like there couldn’t be a wall there when the area is open. Several Apple employees I spoke with were particularly proud of the hands-on area. “Isn’t the hands-on area beautiful?” was an ice-breaking question I was asked in several conversations. Indisputably, the answer is yes. It’s beautiful. But from a practical standpoint it was the worst hands-on area I’ve seen at an Apple event.1 It was incredibly crowded, and nearly impossible to get your hands on any of the new iPhones, especially the iPhone X. There were way, way too few units available for the number of guests. An hour after the show had ended, the crowds were still three-deep around the sample tables. As a hands-on area after a major product introduction, this room fails the “design is how it works” test.

The Opening Tribute to Steve Jobs

I had a feeling Apple might take this opportunity to speak about Steve Jobs at a public event for the first time since his death in 2011. The way they did it was just perfect. They let Jobs speak for himself, playing a clip of him addressing an internal company meeting that had heretofore never before been revealed in public. It included this utterly Jobsian observation:

“One of the ways that I believe people express their appreciation to the rest of humanity is to make something wonderful and put it out there.”

The whole passage was great — a remarkably cogent summation of Apple’s purpose as a company, and an inspiration for everyone else. “Make something wonderful and put it out there” — what perfect words with which to publicly open this magnificent theater. And hearing Steve Jobs’s voice open an Apple event one more time — my god, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

Tim Cook’s words about Jobs were pitch perfect too, and his emotional response delivering them was palpable. If you haven’t watched the event video, do yourself a favor and at least watch the opening tribute to Steve Jobs.

I have a bunch of notes and observations regarding the products that were announced at the event, but I’m still processing them. Look for a piece assembling them tomorrow. But I didn’t want to wait before getting these high-level thoughts on the theater and Apple’s tribute to Steve Jobs off my chest. Five, ten years from now, the Apple Watch Series 3, the iPhone 8, and even the iPhone X are just going to be old products sitting around in drawers. But the public debut of Apple Park, the grand opening of the Steve Jobs Theater, and the company’s first public tribute to its founder — that’s what I’ll remember most about yesterday.

It somehow feels appropriate, too, that the most interesting thing revealed in the event that came as a genuine surprise, that hadn’t been leaked, was a message from Steve Jobs himself.

  1. With the possible exception of the tiny stifling hands-on area they had at the California Theatre in San Jose back in October 2012, when they introduced some new iPads and iMacs. ↩︎