I went to a reopened Apple Store and listened to the silence

As Apple stores come back to life, things have changed. Really changed.

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Oh, that T-shirt says everything.

Chris Matyszczyk/ZDNet

It felt like an iPhone launch day.

Without the noise, the excitement and the naturally forced smiles.

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Apple has recently begun to reopen many of its stores, in the belief that the worst of the coronavirus may have passed.

But surely things will have changed. No retail experience is the same anymore. Few life experiences are.

So I ventured to a recently reopened store to see whether it remained quintessentially Apple, or whether it reflected our new, more difficult realities.

As I walked along a row of shops, some enjoyed wide-open doors. And wide-open spaces inside. There were few people around. Not everyone, it seems, is rushing back to their previous ways of life.

I went at a time of day when I'd expect the Apple store to be, in contemporary parlance, bumpin'. But, as I approached, I could see at least one thing was very different: There was no police officer stationed outside.

I've become used to Apple protecting its stores with the help of somewhat bored-looking members of law enforcement. This time, there were store employees in dark blue T-shirts milling around outside, but no obvious officers of the law.

Then I espied a man in a black jacket, standing to the right of the entrance. Did he work there? Was he a bouncer? It didn't seem entirely necessary, given that a few customers were sitting around outside, but precious few inside.

Who was this man? I stepped a little closer. He was wearing the badge of a private security company. His job, however, was to stand at the entrance to one of two lines and take people's temperatures.

As far as I could tell, there was one line for people picking up items and another for those with Genius Bar appointments. I walked up to the security officer and asked whether browsing inside was allowed. He explained it was.

At that moment, however, a steady line of people suddenly materialized, so I stood back and read the rules of entry.

A board outside the store offered details. Social distancing was required. If you somehow didn't have a mask -- they're required for going outside in the Bay Area, but many people ignore that requirement -- the store would provide you one.

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Even here, privacy matters.

Chris Matyszczyk/ZDNet

Moreover, Apple promised that records of your temperature wouldn't be kept. Privacy is a brand characteristic now. Hey, just like app store bullying.

Still, though, Apple seemed to encourage you not to go in, if it was at all possible. It reminded customers that it offers free, no-contact delivery. It added that you can always get help by using gadgets such as your phone or Apple's chat app.

Some store employees were helping customers at a table outside. Inside the store, one or two were chatting with customers. There can't, though, have been more than six customers in the store. It's eerie to see a place that thrives on its teeming nature to suddenly be so devoid of life.

Customers who approached moved in a wary fashion. Any time you wandered past this store in pre-corona times, you'd hear the hubbub from many yards away. Now, an odd silence, like a Protestant church in an English country village on a Sunday morning.

Watching all this was but another reminder that this could be a permanent new future. Exuberance has been replaced by caution. Physical retail is being superseded by a complete lack of physical contact.

As I stared into the store, there were a couple of employees who seemingly weren't sure what to do. Two of them, however, busied themselves by constantly disinfecting the gadgets and the tables, wiping with a vigor they used to reserve for customer interaction.

This is what we've come to, desperately trying to preserve our existence rather than celebrate it.

Outside, a man in a pink T-shirt lay down and sunbathed. Did he have an appointment or was he enjoying the quiet too?

A female customer approached the store and seemingly couldn't decide which of the two lines she should stand in. I think she was picking up but also wanted to browse.

Finally, she walked over to the security officer and asked him for help. He pointed her to the right-hand line.

Then she turned around. Her T-Shirt read: "2020 Sucks."