Apple makes great hardware. That’s a given. Apple makes great software. That’s also a given. However, both pale when it comes to understanding the real reason for Apple’s meteoric success: the experience.

I’m in a somewhat strange place writing a piece that’s basically going to idolize Apple, because for years, I was relatively anti-Apple. However, over the past couple of years, I’ve slowly started accumulating Apple products, including iPhones, iPads, and MacBook Airs. That said, I remain a staunch Windows advocate as well. These days, I consider myself platform agnostic and believe in using whatever makes sense for the task at hand.

But I digress. I have a very specific story to relate to you regarding a recent experience I had at an Apple store.

My story begins like so many others — I had an iPhone 4 and needed to upgrade to an iPhone 4S. No, really!  You see, I recently left my full-time job and my iPhone 4 belonged to my former employer. So, this actually was a need.

Since I was traveling near a location worthy of an Apple store, I decided to stop and get my new Siri-enabled device. I walked into the store, which was bustling with holiday activity. I explained my need to the friendly face at the door. He walked me over to one of the Pads in the iPhone section of the store and tapped an icon that alerted the sales force that a customer was waiting for assistance in the iPhone section.

I stood there for less than five minutes before a sales associate arrived, but I knew the entire time where I fell in the queue. The icon that the host tapped kept me apprised of my location in the sales queue, so I was never left wondering.

From there, I explained to the sales person that I needed to upgrade my existing phone to an iPhone 4S. He asked the usual questions:

“AT&T or Verizon?” “AT&T.”

“16, 32, or 64 GB?” “32.”

“Black or white?” “Well, I really don’t care, so let’s go white.”

It took two or three minutes for a stock worker to bring out the new phone. During that short wait, the sales person asked me for my existing phone number, and he looked up my AT&T account on his sales iPhone.

Once the shiny new iPhone 4S arrived, the employee used his sales device to scan the barcode on the side of the new box. He then asked if I planned to make any plan changes. I was satisfied with what I had, so we just moved on in the process. Next, he told me that I’d just have to wait for about five minutes while the new phone activated.

At the end of the activation period, he offered to take me over to the store’s individual setup area to help me configure my new iPhone 4S. I told him that I’d love to use the setup area but was comfortable doing my own configuration. I moved to the area, removed the new iPhone 4S from the box, and turned it on.

The phone walked through its typical setup routine, but unlike prior configurations, I didn’t have to do anything at all with iTunes. Instead, late in the overall configuration process, the phone asked me if I wanted to restore my new phone from an old device and offered to allow me to use an existing iTunes backup or to recover from the previous evening’s iCloud-based backup. Since I was 1,500 miles from my iTunes machine, I opted for the iCloud-based recovery option.

When I was done, almost everything was exactly as it had been when I walked into the store. My email was configured. All of my text messages were retrieved. The photos that I have on my iPhone were copied, and all of my music and applications were recovered. Most importantly, at the time, my GPS software — Navigon — was restored. I did have to re-download my maps, but that was a very minor issue.

From start to finish, I spent about 30 to 35 minutes in the Apple store and walked out with everything I walked in with and more. There were zero hassle, awesome service, and an experience that left me wondering what the world could be like it every company could do what Apple has done. They’ve leveraged and combined the company’s strengths in logistics, operations, software, hardware, and retail and created a streamlined customer service and support experience that should be the envy of everyone.

Sure, like any company, Apple has its flaws, but the in-store upgrade experience certainly isn’t one of them!