Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Apple's new Palo Alto Store is WAY TOO LOUD!

November 11, 2012: 7:04 PM ET

Was this the reason, Jean-Louis Gassée asks half seriously, John Browett was fired?

SPL app

The new Palo Alto Store

FORTUNE -- In a well-argued memo to management written by a friend of Apple (and former head of advanced product development and worldwide marketing), Jean-Louis Gassée devotes this week's Monday Note to the blaring problem with the company's new flagship store in Palo Alto that some are calling a prototype for future venues:

IT'S WAY TOO LOUD!

Louder, he points out, iPhone decibel meter app in hand, than the traffic outside on University Avenue. Louder, even, than the EPA-identified maximum to protect against hearing loss, sleep disturbance, stress, learning detriment, etc.

"The sound problem," he writes, "stems from a combination of the elongated 'Great Hall', parallel walls, and reflective building materials. The visually striking glass roof becomes a veritable parabolic sound mirror. There isn't a square inch of sound-absorbing material in the entire place...

"Did the rightly famous architectural firm, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, not hear the problem? What about the highly reputable building contractor (DPR) which has built so many other Apple Stores? Did they stand by and say nothing, or could they simply not be heard?"

He doesn't really believe that John Browett, the former CEO of Dixons brought in to run Apple Retail six months earlier and shown the door two days after the Palo Alto outlet opened, was fired because the store was too loud.

But Gassée began to think Apple (AAPL) was taking the decibel levels seriously when he spotted a professional sound pressure level (SPL) meter installed near a display and a pair of Apple staffers wearing omnidirectional sound recorders on their shoulders.

"Having tacitly admitted that there's a problem," he concludes hopefully, "Apple's senior management can now show they'll stop at nothing to make the new store as inviting as it was intended to be."

Below: A YouTube video of the store opening linked to by Smartphone Wars' Brian S Hall. Note the rise in sound level as the videographer leaves the street and enters the cacophony of the Apple Store.

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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