You don’t normally associate the phrases “work of art” and “place of learning” with a simple retail outlet; and most retail stores don’t enjoy lines that stretch down the block. But Apple’s stores aren’t your average shops. What began in 2001 as an experiment – one that many industry experts derided at the time – has become a retail revolution. Consumers love Apple’s stores for their clean, modern design, their extensive selection and their Geniuses; while other companies envy them and sometimes try to copy them.

Whether you’re an Apple Store regular or a newbie, there are probably things in it you don’t know about. So take a deeper look past those glass doors to find out how you can make the most of the Apple retail experience.

Peek, play, buy

How do you prove to a market dominated by Windows machines that Apple’s hardware and software is superior? You show it off. The goal of the first Apple Stores was just that: to lure customers in by letting them play with Macs. Apple converts could play with the latest hardware, and potential switchers could ask questions, try out programs and surf the web, all without using a credit card.

Today, the stores’ mission remains unchanged. When you walk into one, you are greeted with the full range of Apple hardware: iMacs, MacBooks, Mac Pros, iPads, iPhones, iPods and more. Even the signs are Apple-centric. The signboard for each product on display consists of an iPad running an app that details everything you might want to know about that particular device. There’s even an onscreen button to call a Specialist over if you have questions.

The Specialists are the blue-shirted stalwarts of the Apple Store. They are sometimes accused of being too helpful – upon entering a store, it’s unusual if you aren’t greeted by at least two of them – but they’re not the typical hard-sell types. They don’t earn commission from a sale, and their enthusiasm seems genuinely directed at helping customers in need.

Learning and training

The front half of the store (or, in bigger locations, the first floor) is where most playing and purchasing happens. Enter the rear section (or another floor), however, and you cross from the retail area to a hybrid classroom and technician’s workshop. Here, the company provides several services to customers. Every one of these services – except for One to One memberships – is free and available to anyone with an Apple device; for certain customer workshops, you can attend without bringing any hardware at all.

Personal Setup: have your apps, data and user accounts moved to your new device

Personal Setup If this is your first computer or iOS device, Apple’s Personal Setup service is invaluable, but even Mac and iPhone veterans can take advantage of it. A Specialist will help you unbox your purchase and turn it on (and, in the case of an iOS device, activate it). If you’ve bought a Mac, Specialists will help you load any software you’ve purchased along with it, introduce you to the Mac App Store, and explain how to transfer data (if you need to move information from an old computer). If it’s an iPad or iPhone, they’ll tailor a primer for you based on your own knowledge. Don’t know the first thing about swipes versus flicks? Count on a Specialist to break it down.

One to One training: personal tutorials cover the gamut of Mac software

One to One Training Though not as well publicised as some of the other offerings, One to One tutoring may be the most valuable. A set of specially trained employees are on hand to provide you with solo teaching on subjects as simple as the Finder or as complex as a Final Cut Pro project.

When you purchase a Mac, you’ll be offered the chance to purchase a £79 12-month One to One membership, which provides you with as many 50-minute training sessions and two-hour Personal Project workshops as you can book; training is personalised and runs the gamut of Mac software. One to One memberships aren’t currently sold with iOS devices, nor are they sold as standalone options; you’ll need to purchase a new Mac to qualify. When you buy a membership, you’ll be assigned a default store. You then book appointments for what you wish to study; the training revolves around what you want to learn. Those customers who can spare a few hours per week will find that the value of personal interaction far outstrips that of online video tutorials. (One to One users get access to some of those too, through an online portal.)

If you’re working on a project, such as building a scrapbook for an anniversary or a slideshow for someone’s wedding, a One to One membership will give you access to weekly Personal Projects sessions, in which you and several other members sit down and work with a trainer over a two-hour period. Think of it as a modern-day masterclass. Members work with trainers and each other to tackle pieces of their projects. (Sometimes those involved even bring snacks.)