On June 15, 2010, Apple released the Apple Store app in the App Store. The app recognized the growing importance of mobile shopping on the iPhone and elevated the in-store experience at Apple Retail Stores. On its 10th anniversary, let’s take a look back at the app’s design evolution and how it changed the way we shop.

The Easiest Way To Buy

Before the Apple Store app, the only way to buy an Apple product from your iPhone or iPad was to open Safari and head to Apple’s online store website. These were the days before responsive web design, meaning that you needed to navigate a desktop site on your iPhone’s browser. 

The Apple Store app launched in the US on the same day that Apple opened pre-orders for the iPhone 4 and unveiled a redesigned Mac mini, giving it the ultimate trial by fire. iPhone 4 pre-orders were so much higher than Apple expected that the online store infrastructure collapsed under pressure. AT&T said it was the “busiest sales day” in the history of the company. Apple issued a statement apologizing to customers who had trouble ordering.

Despite the hectic launch, the Apple Store app truly was, as Apple billed it, “the easiest way to buy or reserve your new iPhone.” It would be instrumental in the future of physical Apple Stores and helped capture community excitement ahead of new product launches.

DetroitBORG demos the original Apple Store app.

Within a few months, Apple added the ability to custom engrave products and configure Macs, reserve pickups, and check in for reservations at a physical Apple Store right within the app. Custom engraving remains a popular feature to this day and has expanded to include products like the Apple Pencil and emoji engraving on AirPods.

EasyPay And Personal Pickup

Version 2.0 of the Apple Store app was all about creating a better experience for Apple Retail Store customers. Personal Pickup was introduced as a way to buy online and pick up in any Apple Store. Like today, you could check product availability at your local store before buying and receive a notification when your order was ready. From day 1, Apple promised most orders would be ready within an hour.

Personal Pickup transformed the Apple Store experience and has taken on an even more critical role in the era of COVID-19, but what grabbed headlines at the time was EasyPay, a scan and buy system for accessories that let you skip the checkout line. Self-checkout, now with Apple Pay, is still the app’s best kept secret that Apple Store regulars love. EasyPay quickly garnered a reputation for being so easy it felt like stealing. For those more comfortable purchasing with an employee, Apple later added the ability to buy Apple Store gift cards for use with Passbook (now the Wallet app.)

Free Apps, Music, And More

Beginning in August 2013, Apple began offering paid apps, games, songs, and books for free inside the Apple Store app. Each limited-time promotion encouraged iPhone owners to revisit the app often for a special treat and provided a springboard for customers buying new iPhones with Personal Setup at Apple Stores.

The first free download was Color Zen, a puzzle game. Later offerings included a holiday playlist and the popular art app Procreate, a favorite today at in-store creative sessions. The last featured download from the Apple Store app came in May 2019 with Statue of Liberty, an AR app promoted by Tim Cook on Twitter as a transformative education tool.

Apple Store Comes To iPad

Just ahead of Black Friday 2013, Apple brought a whole new shopping experience to the iPad. The first version of the Apple Store app for iPad was a separate download and followed an iOS 7 redesign of the iPhone app in September.

Apple Store for iPad wasn’t just the iPhone’s UI blown up for a larger screen, it had a unique design with rich imagery and an immersive UI. Instead of EasyPay checkout and features for in-store shopping, the app championed the at-home experience. Full-screen galleries displayed curated and swipe-able product collections. A split-screen panel made it easy to discover Apple Stores across the world and view upcoming events.

In September 2014, some of the iPad’s design ideas made their way to the iPhone when the Apple Store app became a universal download for iOS. The app icon switched from a shopping cart to a shopping bag.

iBeacon Notifications

Apple activated iBeacon technology in its US retail stores in December 2013, making possible a new layer of interactivity between the Apple Store app and brick and mortar locations. iBeacon devices are tiny Bluetooth transmitters that communicate in close proximity with your iPhone. With iBeacons in Apple Stores, Apple is able to send relevant push notifications based on your location near and inside the store.

These opt-in notifications have been used to welcome customers to stores, provide updates on order status, and inform visitors about upcoming sessions and active promotions.

Apple Store Comes To Apple Watch

Before anyone could walk into an Apple Store and try on an original Apple Watch, Apple built a tool to help buyers get a feel for the size of each case style. Beginning in March 2015, the Apple Store app featured actual size imagery of the 38mm and 42mm Apple Watch faces for side by side comparison. The tool lives on inside the app to this day.

The original Apple Watch launched with interactive animations in the Apple Store app. Today, Apple offers Apple Watch Studio to visualize case and band combinations.

When the Apple Watch was finally released, the Apple Store app was updated with a watchOS companion. Rather than a shopping tool, Apple Store for Apple Watch offered at-a-glance information about order status and updates on Genius Bar reservations and upcoming Workshops. The ability to buy favorited accessories was added in a later update.

Shopping Designed Around You

Starting with version 4.0 in August 2016, Apple prioritized creating a unique and more personal shopping experience for every customer in the Apple Store app. Packed inside the updated app icon were new Discover and Shop tabs that replaced the previous Featured, Shop, and Store tabs.

The Discover tab provided recommendations based on products you already own. Large tiles similar to the App Store’s Today tab listed the latest products. As part of the redesign, the iPad’s custom interface was retired in favor of a single UI that scales across all devices.

In March 2018, Apple added a Sessions tab to highlight upcoming Today at Apple events at your local store. The Sessions tab made it easy to browse events by topic, see exclusive performances, and sign up to attend. One year later, Apple refreshed the Sessions tab after over 50 new creative sessions were introduced.

Another update introduced Session passes to the Wallet app. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sessions tab became a hub for Today at Apple at Home videos.

Let It Snow

Committed Apple fans know there’s one thing in the Apple Store app that money can’t buy: a virtual snowstorm. Type “let it snow” in the app’s search bar, and gentle snowfall will cover your screen while you browse the app. Shake your phone, and it turns into a virtual snow globe of whirling flakes. The Easter egg has been present inside the app since at least the 2013 holiday season, but rose to legend status in 2017 when it was discovered on social media.

The Place For Pre-Orders

Since day 1, literally, the Apple Store app has been the best place for securing a pre-order of your next device. For years, Apple fans have stayed awake until midnight Pacific Time, refreshing the online store and turning the yellow sticky note maintenance graphic into a legend. “The Apple Store is down!” has achieved meme status in the community. The most experienced pre-order veterans know that the Apple Store app always comes back online first.

In recent years, Apple has acknowledged the fun of pre-order day with teasing messages for early visitors to the app. A novelty Siri Shortcut was added in 2018, making “Hey Siri, pre-order my iPhone XR” a hilariously over-engineered possibility. Starting with the iPhone 11, pre-order time was moved to 5AM Pacific to ease the pain of those midnight alarms.

Augmented Reality

Apple chose the Apple Store app as the home for its most ambitious public augmented reality project to date. In July 2019, new [AR]T sessions were added to the Today at Apple calendar at every Apple Store across the world. In collaboration with artist Nick Cave, an [AR]T Viewer was built into the Apple Store app and transformed your local store into a shimmering, interactive art installation. iBeacon technology kept the experience exclusive to the four walls of the store building.

Starting with the 2019 Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR, Apple began offering AR models of its latest and greatest products inside the Apple Store app. Right from the purchase page, customers can go further than a static image gallery and visualize how a new iPad will look right on their desk.

A Bold New Look

In December 2019, the Discover tab was removed entirely and replaced with a new Shop tab that streamlines product information, recommendations, and nearby stores into one dynamic hub. Individual product pages now feature more artfully-designed layouts and richer imagery. Dark Mode support arrived in May 2020.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Apple launched the Apple Store Online hub as shopping from home became essential. The site’s layout approximates elements of the Apple Store app design with product tiles and quick links to Apple Store services. The pandemic has dramatically accelerated online shopping trends and the popularity of delivery and pickup options. The Apple Store app will undoubtedly play an even greater role in the retail experience as it enters its second decade.

Follow our retail guide for in-depth coverage of the latest Apple Store news.

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Michael Steeber's favorite gear