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Apple Vancouver
Apple occupies a floor in the City Hall building in downtown Vancouver, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / George Crosland)

It’s hard not to associate Apple with California when picturing the home base for the maker of Macs, iPhones and much more. But as Apple, like many other Silicon Valley companies, expands its footprint in Seattle, it’s worth recognizing that another Washington city has been a home away from home for the tech giant for 25 years.

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Apple has maintained a presence since 1992 in Vancouver, Wash., 2 1/2 hours south of Seattle and just across the Columbia River from Portland, Ore. During the 1980s and ’90s, Apple collaborated with and eventually absorbed Claris, makers of the ClarisWorks office suite of programs which would later become AppleWorks.

A team of less than 10 Claris workers set up the first Apple office in Vancouver in 1992 — one of the earliest Apple offices located outside of Silicon Valley. Today, roughly 40 employees — largely engineers and developers — work in the office. They include the core team for Apple’s Pages development, which is part of the company’s iWork suite of apps. Engineering work is also done for iBooks, iBooks Author, News and other apps for both MacOS and iOS.

The Vancouver team is made up of some of the best and most-experienced engineers around when it comes to word processing development, according to the company, and these veterans have an intense knowledge around the evolution of productivity apps.

The first release of iWork was in 2005, when Pages joined Keynote as bundled applications for the Mac. Numbers was added in 2007, and in 2010, iWork launched on iOS for iPad along with further iCloud integration. It was the first major productivity suite available on a touch-based mobile device.

The Apple team in Vancouver, Wash., works on products including Apple’s Pages app. (Apple Photo)

By 2013, Apple made it possible to use iWork apps across OS X and iOS and today, millions of users can edit a document, spreadsheet, or presentation together in real time on a Mac, iPad, iPhone or even on a Windows PC using iCloud.

With offices on one floor of a downtown building which also houses Vancouver’s City Hall, Apple workers are part of a tight and well-regarded group in an environment that feels — unlike the massive nature of Apple’s ever-expanding main campus — like it could be a separate company.

And while Vancouver engineers can’t just walk across the Infinite Loop to talk to someone on the Cupertino, Calif., campus, they credit video conferencing with helping the remote office act as an integral part of a team that spans multiple cities. Chatting online with groups such as quality assurance and marketing takes care of much of the necessary communication, but like any place, travel back to the main office for face-to-face interaction is encouraged.

Apple Vancouver
Apple’s development presence in Vancouver, Wash., is low key, even thought the tech giant has been there since 1992. (GeekWire Photo / George Crosland)

Unlike the open floor plan style that might be all the rage at certain startups (or not), the Vancouver layout — while consistent with Apple’s signature wood and white finishes — is notable for having individual offices to allow for maximum quiet.

Because it’s a development office, Apple doesn’t scream about its presence in Vancouver and most people on the street probably wouldn’t know that the tech giant is operating there. But once in a while, somebody will somehow find the Apple logo on the relatively nondescript office and ring the doorbell looking for someone to fix their iPhone. If only that potential customer, in search of a Genius Bar, knew what kind of geniuses were actually at work in the building.

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