The Genius Bar is the Apple Store’s defining feature these days. Without waiting in line for an hour to have your MacBook checked out, behind a dude arguing furiously that there’s NO WAY his iPhone got wet, going to an Apple Store just wouldn’t be the same.
But according to a new interview with the founder of the Genius Bar, it wasn’t always destined to be this way. Steve Jobs hated the idea at first, because he thought anyone geeky enough to understand computers wouldn’t have the people skills to talk to normal human beings.
On the Recode Decode podcast, former Apple retail guru Ron Johnson explains how the Apple Stores and their iconic Genius Bar came to be:
“I remember the day I came in and told Steve about the Genius Bar idea and he says, ‘That’s so idiotic! It’ll never work!’” Johnson said. “He said, ‘Ron, you might have the right idea, but here’s the big gap: I’ve never met someone who knows technology who knows how to connect with people. They’re all geeks! You can call it the Geek Bar.’”
“And I said, ‘Steve, kids who are in their 20s today grew up in a very different world. They all know technology, and that’s who’s going to work in the store.’”
The Genius Bar became one of the centerpieces of Job’s vision for Apple stores, which were originally meant to be about far more than just retail. When Jobs unveiled the first store, he was keen that it wasn’t just a place to buy stuff; the idea was that Apple customers would spend time there, take classes there, and generally view the store as more than just another shrine to consumerism.
Last year, Apple kicked off a revamping of its Apple retail stores with the unveiling of a new flagship in San Francisco, which replaces aisles and counters with forums and groves. It also ushered in the first iteration of the “Genius Grove,” which is basically Johnson’s Genius Bar but with more trees.