A Visit to Israel’s First Apple Store

by Brian on January 8, 2009

in Just For Fun,Only in Israel

I shouldn’t be so crazy over a store. After all, it’s just a large rectangular space whose sole purpose is to sell me expensive stuff I may or may not need. But this store, full of shiny toys, mesmerizing images and deliriously happy shoppers, is something else entirely. And it’s a welcome break from all the news from the Gaza front.

I’m talking, of course, about the first Apple Store in Israel, which opened late last month. Located in the upscale Ramat Aviv Mall, just north of Tel Aviv and down the street from Tel Aviv University, this Apple Store sports the usual mix of state-of-the-art Macintosh computers (with enormous 30-inch cinema displays), the latest iPods (but sadly no iPhone yet – for that we’ll have to wait another 6 months, according to the latest gossip), plus a wall full of accessories in every size and style. The back of the shop hosts Apple’s user-friendly “Genius Bar” where visitors can get free advice and answers to all their Apple conundrums.

The opening of an Apple Store in Israel is a big deal for Mac fanboi’s – like me – in the Holy Land. For my first 10 years of professional computing, I owned a Mac (a little black and white Mac SE with a 40 MB hard drive – today I have 10x that in RAM alone). I used Macs at work and, one time, in front of a class of 100 multimedia students whom I was teaching, I proudly pronounced myself a “Mac Bigot.”

Yet, when I came to Israel, I had no choice but to go PC. In 1995, there was no hi-tech Apple Store and precious few Macs at all in the country. Yedda, the only company in Jerusalem that sold Apple products, was dour, its products ridiculously overpriced.

At the same time, Apple was floundering worldwide, losing ground to the significantly improved Windows 95 operating system. I reluctantly bought a cheap PC clone and for the next 10 years toiled in the Microsoft Diaspora.

2 years ago, though, when my IBM laptop’s hard drive failed, I decided the time was ripe to go back to Mac.

You see, by this time Apple, under the leadership of the triumphant Steve Jobs, had turned around. iPods were on their way to becoming ubiquitous, in turn spurring growing sales of desktop and laptop Macs. MacBooks are now the #1 laptops on college campuses in the U.S., and the iMac is so way cool it still turns heads when visitors come to my office. I was hooked.

There was one niggling problem: In Israel, Yedda was still in charge and despite Apple’s resurgence, they had long since closed the Jerusalem store. If you needed a repair, you had to truck out to an industrial park in Rosh Ha’ayin, over an hour a way from just about anywhere in the country.

I had the unfortunate occasion to pay a visit there once when my daughter’s iPod went on the fritz. The establishment consisted of a small, windowless waiting room and a single under-staffed counter. The entrance was via a loading deck and through a freight elevator.

Now, customers with an Apple problem can take their machine to the brand new Apple Store in Ramat Aviv. It’s still a schlep from Jerusalem, but it’s significantly more pleasant.

Apple’s Israeli turn-around stems from the purchase last year of the Apple license for Israel by iDigital, a company backed by a professional venture capital team including Chemi Peres, Israeli president Shimon Peres’s son. iDigital has clearly invested in aesthetics and customer service.

All of which is good news. Israel has a lot of things going for it – history, identity, falafel – but customer service was never part of the package. I’ve written about that here and here and here.

The employees at the Apple Store, by contrast, are cheerful, helpful and seem to genuinely enjoy what they’re doing. During my visit, I watched as one staffer demonstrated how to use the latest version of iMovie, Apple’s video editing software. The looks on the faces of the customers were priceless. They couldn’t believe how easy it was to use. The employee was clearly relishing the power to impress.

That Israel can support a genuine Apple Store, which is so far above and beyond the typical buying experience in Israel of surly clerks and no exchange/no refund policies, is good news for the entire nation. Granted, something as mundane as buying a new computer is certainly not on the same level as draining the swamps and establishing kibbutzim…or waging a bloody struggle against Hamas for that matter. But it demonstrates that Israel has the potential to win at least one war – the struggle for the consumer’s heart.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: