I have been to the Apple Store in Shenzhen, Singapore, Berlin, Hong Kong and Barcelona. I still vividly remember my first visit to an Apple Store in Shenzhen in 2016. At that time, I had an iPhone 6s and was not looking to buy anything new. However, an Apple employee came to me and asked something in Chinese. I responded that “I don’t understand Chinese” in English. He then seemed to communicate with a colleague with his eyes. In a moment, there was another Apple Store employee who spoke English and asked what I was planning to buy that evening. I was courteous and said I didn’t plan to buy anything but he is free to surprise me.
He escorted me to another side of the store, where products like drones and cases were stacked in nice shelves. From there, he pulled Olloclip lenses for iPhone 6s. He showed me how it worked on an iPhone 6s that he carried. I asked if I could try on my iPhone 6s and he obliged. With Olloclip lens, I then clicked fish-eye and wide-angle images of that Shenzhen store. I was not a creator and I didn’t see immediate need for those lenses. When Apple added wide-angle lens to iPhone 11 series in September, that event came full circle for me. After coming back from that trip, I told my colleagues how great Apple Store is as a retail experience.
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I don’t think a Croma or Reliance Digital executive would have bothered to talk if I told them I was there to window shop and not buy things. My colleagues shared similar experiences from Apple Stores in Las Vegas, San Francisco and New York. Since then, I have been hoping for Apple to open its fancy stores in India. One Saturday last month, I was convinced that India needs Apple Store now and not tomorrow or next year. The reason is an activity dubbed as “Today at Apple”. Apple is yet to open its official retail store in India. The stores that currently sell Apple devices are called Apple Premium Reseller. One such store operated by Aptronix in Mumbai has among the largest retail space.
Coding becomes fun with Swift Playground
At the Aptronix store, Apple ran a coding workshop, giving an early glimpse at what Today at Apple would look like when Apple Stores rise up across the country. The idea behind Today at Apple is to use the space for learning with fun activities. For instance, you can pick up a new skill or go on a photo walk. With every new release of iPhone and iPad, Apple has turned them into tools that help you achieve more. These sessions at Apple Stores are meant to further your horizon and see what’s possible with these devices. Guess what, these sessions are free. Yes, the company behind $1,000 smartphone does not charge a penny for these insightful sessions.
Let me drive you back to the Aptronix store in Mumbai. On one Saturday evening, a bunch of kids came with their parents to tickle their mind with coding and computing. The event was organized as part of Computer Science Education Week celebrations in December. The celebrations commemorate the birth of Grace Hopper, a pioneer in Computer Science. Apple and several other tech companies participate by organizing coding camps around the globe. In the case of the event in Mumbai, Apple did not require kids attending these workshops to have an iOS device. When they attend such a session, they are given an iPad for the duration of the code camp.
Apple iPad becomes coding machine
The iPad, handed to these kids, is not a media device. It is the one where kids get initiated with the idea of coding. The iPad becomes a window to Swift, a coding language developed by Apple and first introduced at 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference. The language has been widely acclaimed for developing apps for platforms such as iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, tvOS and others. The kids were then encouraged to try an app called Swift Playground. The name is apt because coding here does not involve writing long lines of instructions. Instead, you play and every move is associated with a code. The app cleverly morphs coding into fun. This is the real difference – kids were learning, but in the form of a fun activity.
While watching those kids who would not have been older than six years, I realized what my childhood lacked. When I was a kid, I was introduced to a computer at age 10 and the first thing I did was play Dave. While Dave was fun, it never made me think about what made it possible. On the other hand, Swift Playground was all about making kids reason the movements seen on their iPad. The event not only highlighted the benefits of Swift Playground but lack of awareness of STEM, which stands for Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM is as an academic discipline that is yet to be widely adopted across schools in the country.
Education is a big market for tech companies
One might argue that a number of Indian executives have gone ahead to lead major tech companies, even those worth several billion dollars in market capitalization. However, the lack of a system at early phase of education seems to hamper progress. Swift Playground is only the precursor to a wide range of education related applications offered by Apple. Education tech is a huge market and the iPhone maker is not alone. Google and Microsoft are other major players in this space. A CNBC report from last year citing data from Futuresource Consulting showed that Google’s Chromebooks made up 60 percent of all laptops and tablets purchased for K-12 classrooms in the US in 2018. Microsoft was second at 22 percent, followed by Apple at 18 percent.
These tech companies offer end-to-end solution in the form of device controls. They also offer apps that allow teachers to monitor progress of kids and assigns them work. Oberoi International School in Mumbai and Trio World School in Bangalore use Apple devices. At these schools, kids not only use Swift Playground to get accustomed with building blocks of Swift language but other Apps too. For instance, an exercise within the app introduces them to Clips, which can be dubbed as a miniature version of iMovie. Kids are taught how to quickly edit videos and exposed to rule of thirds as a photography concept.
They are also accustomed to suite of Apple apps like Keynote, Safari, Photos, Numbers, GarageBand and others. However, Apple Distinguished Educators at these schools say that adopting technology to teach kids comes with challenges. Jalpa Seth, an Apple Distinguished Educator at Oberoi International School told BGR India that the problem is getting management onboard to use devices like the iPad to teach kids. She also added that teachers accustomed to blackboard will find using tech devices not conducive to teaching environment.
Apple devices meet Indian schools
It is already clear that legacy jobs may not be around in the next decade or two. Laxmi Priya, an Apple Distinguished Educator at Trio World School told BGR India that they are using devices like the iPad to prepare kids for the future. Both the teachers had a common message that rapid evolution of technology such as AI and automation will eat traditional jobs. Use of interactive learning experience and allowing them to experience science and technology through these devices prepares them for this inevitable future.
Priya also noted that another challenge is digital wellbeing. Apple has built a tool called Screen Time that allows parents to monitor the time spent by their kids with devices like iPhone and iPad. She told that they use tools to ensure that kids are exposed to such devices in a fashion that it does not become addictive. While this coding camp tickled the minds of these young kids, I also saw parents becoming curious about these devices. The big question was not whether it is important to learn to code. The real question was where to start?
At this coding camp, Apple and Aptronix showed that an iPad with Swift Playground can be a great start. As a smartphone maker, Apple has over 50 percent market share in the premium segment, per IDC. However, its overall market share is believed to be under 2 percent. The launch of retail stores may not drastically increase iPhone sales, but it will definitely help Indians wake up to potential of a differentiated retail experience. One where you don’t walk into a store just to buy a new product. Instead, you go to the store, explore the product, set it up and eventually end up learning a new skill.