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Apple calling its stores ‘town squares’ is a pretentious farce

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Excruciating self-congratulation has always been part of Apple’s brand, but the company took this to new levels at today’s iPhone event.

It started with a tribute to Steve Jobs that was unnerving in the depth of its veneration. As smiling photos of the company founder beamed down at the audience, we were told that Apple is not, in fact, one of the richest and most influential corporations of all time, but the embodiment of one man’s creative spirit. The revenue, the supply chains, the employees, the users — all an incarnation of Jobs.

“His greatest expression would not be a singular product, but rather Apple itself,” said Cook.

Even the auditorium the event took place in was framed as a mausoleum. It’s the last creative project touched by Jobs’ genius, we were told, and look how it shelters the faithful, called here to see the latest relics the great man bequeathed to the Earth.

And then things got really crazy.

After Tim Cook had finished his opening tribute, Apple SVP Angela Ahrendts got onstage and announced that the company would be calling its stores “town squares” from now on. (Never mind that Cook referred to them as “stores” just moments before.) Those shops you go to to buy a Mac or haggle over a broken phone screen should, and will be, much more than that, said Ahrendts: “They are gathering places.”

She went on to describe how Apple Stores will transform from simply commercial spaces to locations where the company will develop “communities”: host concerts, lead workshops, offer up meeting rooms, and teach everything from coding to photography to music-making. Apple frames these disciplines as modern equivalents to the Medieval trivium — an essential educational resource that makes a person a person.

Above all, said Ahrendts, Apple wants its stores to be places to hang out. Places you go to because everyone needs somewhere to be other than their home and office. We were told to “imagine movie night" in an Apple store, and shown how the company’s latest space would “transform [Chicago’s] riverfront." Like Uber moving into public transport and Google bringing back the company town, Apple, too, wants to reconfigure civic life around itself and its ideals.

Today, we saw Apple evangelism on a grand scale. The company has always been defined in part by onanism and self-congratulation, but has managed a certain degree of self-awareness. This year, it jumped the shark.