Facades: How a first-time iOS app developer built a better Apple retail store guide than Apple itself

Facades app
Facades app (Image credit: Michael Steeber)

If you've been part of the Apple community for a while, you've likely run into Michael Steeber's work at some point. The writer-turned-developer has been covering the Apple Store beat in intricate detail for years and recently went indie with his own newsletter and a brand-new app — Facades, a field guide to Apple's 'largest products', its brick and mortar retail stores.

I've personally, as I'm sure have many of you, been fascinated by the architecture of Apple Stores. While some are quite understated and find themselves in a mall like any other store, some are true architectural marvels like Apple Carnegie Library and Apple Tower Theatre. The company is known for building flagship stores that restore historical buildings or create something on the cutting edge of the industry.

I sat down with Michael to talk about where his passion for Apple Retail came from, his experience being an indie writer and developer, and how the launch of his new app Facades was going.

iMore meets Michael Steeber

Let's get started on a little of your own history. You’ve built a reputation over the years as an authority figure in the world of Apple Retail. How did you get started with that work and what has maintained that passion over the years?

I have lifelong interests in architecture, design, and history. The retail side of Apple has always been the most fascinating to me because it sits perfectly at the intersection of those interests. Retail is always changing, so there’s always something new to learn. I’ll be interested in Apple Stores as long as Apple keeps creating beautiful places for people to enjoy.

You’ve historically written for technology publications covering the Apple Retail beat but have more recently stepped away from that to work on Tabletops, a newsletter focused on Apple Stores that you author. What made you decide to transition into your own newsletter over working for a technology publication?

Being a reporter carried connotations that constrain me as a creative person. I like to experiment with new forms of storytelling, and my newsletter gives me a platform to kick the tires on any idea I want. There is no topic too niche for the Tabletops audience. I am incredibly grateful that the Apple community has been supportive of my work.

Screenshots of the Facades app for Apple retail stores

(Image credit: Michael Steeber)

You have a number of projects under your belt since working the Apple Retail beat  but I’d like to start with Facades, your new app that you’ve described as a “field guide” for Apple Retail. What was the inspiration to build the app?

I am an archivist at heart, and I love documenting as much information as I can about Apple Stores. File management is a nightmare. I’ve wasted countless hours scanning notes and rummaging through folders in Finder trying to track down an obscure statistic or old photo. Like a true field guide, I also wanted Facades to be useful while in the “field.” Anytime I check out a new store, I like to catch up on its history before visiting.

The app allows users to look up information about all of the Apple Stores that have ever existed, whether they be open now or have closed in the past. While the app is great, this is one of those things that could have materialized as a website. Why an app?

Facades started as a personal project to help me learn app development with SwiftUI. It didn’t take long to realize that others might appreciate it as well. I love the web, but native apps still feel rock-solid in ways that a webpage can’t match.  

I’d like to talk about the App Store. The developer community’s relationship with Apple and its App Store review process is certainly a complicated one. Your app is especially interesting since it covers the company itself. What was your experience going through the review process?

I was extremely nervous about submitting Facades to App Review given the countless troubles I’ve heard from the developer community over the years. Thankfully, App Review has been great to work with so far. Facades was created in good faith, and I like to think that shines through in its design and content.

Now that the app is in the wild, how has the reception been? What are the biggest things users are asking for?

The feedback on Facades has been overwhelmingly positive. It feels great to have shipped my first app to such a warm response. I have a list of a feature suggestions and ideas a mile long, but one thing is clear: people want more data, like lists of temporary stores, maps, and additional feature categories. The good news is that these are all things I want too.

Screenshots of the Facades app for Apple retail stores

(Image credit: Michael Steeber)

Outside of Facades, you recently released Checkmark Stickers, a new sticker pack for iMessage. Elon Musk’s chaotic run at Twitter and especially the catastrophic launch of Twitter Blue seem to be at the core of this project. The sticker pack allows users to “verify” their iMessages with a blue checkmark similar to the one you would get (or used to get) as a Twitter Blue subscriber. It’s really fun and I’ve personally had a blast verifying everyone’s messages. What made you decide to make it and how’s that going? Is Elon DMing you to hand it over?

I met almost everyone I know in the Apple community first through Twitter. It’s been an important part of my life for a decade, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. Checkmark Stickers might be my way of coping with the platform’s rapid, tortured demise. I am laughing through the pain, handing out checkmarks like the valueless currency they have become. I will not sell Checkmark Stickers to Elon for a penny less than $44 billion.

So with all of these projects under your belt, what’s next for you? Is Facades the focus right now and you’ll continue to build that app out? What else is on the horizon?

Facades is a learning journey for me, and I’ll continue adding features as I continue to learn iOS development. I’m passionate about projects that I can invest significant time and energy in, and I’m still searching for a place where I can explore more interactive storytelling ideas in a way that is sustainable to me. Right now, I’m having fun sharing thoughts and stories in my newsletter.

Check out Michael's work

If you want to check out any of Michael's work, you can visit his website. There, you'll find links to the Facades app, Checkmark Stickers pack, the Apple Store Time Machine app, and Tabletops, his weekly newsletter.

Joe Wituschek

Joe Wituschek is a Contributor at iMore. With over ten years in the technology industry, one of them being at Apple, Joe now covers the company for the website. In addition to covering breaking news, Joe also writes editorials and reviews for a range of products. He fell in love with Apple products when he got an iPod nano for Christmas almost twenty years ago. Despite being considered a "heavy" user, he has always preferred the consumer-focused products like the MacBook Air, iPad mini, and iPhone 13 mini. He will fight to the death to keep a mini iPhone in the lineup. In his free time, Joe enjoys video games, movies, photography, running, and basically everything outdoors.