Since its very logo is emblematic of man’s ability to resist everything but temptation, it is tempting to look upon Apple as some sort of cult.
Certainly, it bears all the hallmarks: a charismatic, enigmatic leader whose every pronouncement carries the weight of gospel; a credo that promises to open the pathway to enlightenment in a complex and confusing world; a defining device that invites the faithful to exercise the same gesture of divine connection that Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Still, it would be wrong to suggest that Apple, a respectable company that manufactures computer hardware, software, media players and assorted accessories, is some sort of cult. Because in truth, it is a fully-fledged religion.
As a relatively recent convert – although I still use a plain vanilla Windows PC as my main work computer, so I’m a stayer as well as a switcher – I only really came to realise this when I walked into the new Apple Store at 367 George Street, Sydney.
That giant apple, translucently, transcendently white, cleanly-bitten, freshly-plucked, with the leaf still attached, draws your eyes upwards on the glass-fronted skyscraper, and it is glass-fronted for good reason.
Glass is a miraculous and contradictory material: forged from a fusion of fire and sand, it is strong as well as fragile, protective as well as transparent.
And for some reason, the more you gaze at it, the more you gaze through it, the more it makes you think of a Mac or an iPhone. So I walked in.
The lady at the portal, in her saffron tee-shirt, welcomed me warmly, and I thought I might need to show my iPhone as a token of belonging. But no.
This is a broad church, as open to sceptics and agnostics and people who use Zunes, as it is to the True Believers. I looked around.
Everywhere, people were in little zones of their own, in communion with MacBooks and iMacs and iPods and iPhones, touching and clicking, their faces glowing with auras of absorption and elevation.
Young people in aquamarine tee-shirts that showed the Apple and said “One to One” wandered around, and approached you politely if you looked lost or confused.
Their accents seemed curiously mid-Atlantic, as if they’d been flown in from Cupertino, or at least schooled at some sort of seminary there.
If you didn’t look lost or confused, they left you alone, vanishing into the background, there but not there, like the men in black, standing with their walkie-talkies and earpieces at the door.
I strolled to the end of the floor, turned a corner, and that’s when I saw it: the Proof of Concept. The Apple Store’s Stairway to Heaven.
Okay, it’s just a stairway, in the same way that the Apple Store is just a store, but when you see it, you instantly understand something about the soul of Apple.
Contained in a tunnel of its own reflections, it has shiny metal bannisters, like tubular bolts of lightning, and slats of frosted glass that seem to float in limbo, bathed in haloes of white and bluish light.
It leads to a set of metal doors, and when I first saw it, I thought I had chanced on a Forbidden Zone, and that those doors would open to reveal the inner sanctum of You-Know-Who, the Man in the Black Polo-Neck himself. But there was nothing to stop me, so I climbed those stairs.
Now, in any other retail environment, there would be a sign at the base of such a stairway, saying: Software & Accessories, 2nd Floor.
But this is the Apple Store, and a different set of principles apply. If you see an icon on the screen of an iPhone, you touch it, right? It doesn’t have to say “Touch Here”.
So if you see a stairway in an Apple Store, you climb it. Not knowing where you’re going is part of the journey. But you’re in the Apple Store, so it’s no great revelation when it leads you to another beautifully-lit floor of seductively-arranged merchandise, awaiting your click and your touch.
To me, that stairway in the Apple Store is everything Apple: elegant, intuitive, intriguing, logical, functional. It just works, and it works in a way that gives you a little charge of surprise and self-discovery, and leaves you with a little smile on your face. Okay, a smirk.
Aside from the Apple itself, the stairway in the Sydney Apple Store is the most significant symbol of a space where every little detail has been designed and engineered to reflect the inner essence of a brand, a culture, a way of thinking and a way of life.
I walked up the stairs, walked back down, spoke to someone in an aquamarine tee-shirt, spoke to someone in a saffron tee-shirt, and stepped back into the street, into the throng, into the world.
I blinked, and I realised I was carrying a little drawstring bag in my hand, with an Apple on the outside, and a MacBook power adaptor and a copy of Snow Leopard on the inside.
The funny thing is, I couldn’t even remember buying them. Does that mean that I fell into some sort of trance in the store, unable to resist the allure of the lights and the machines and the friendly smiling faces? Of course not.
If that had been the case, I would have bought the new 160gb iPod Classic as well. I’m going to have to go back and get that tomorrow.