Two blocks apart on Chicagos prestigious Magnificent Mile shopping strip, two stores are trying to change the way you buy cell phones. Nokias Flagship Store, the second of its kind in the world, has a radical mission of teaching Americans that they dont have to get everything pre-approved and regurgitated by their wireless carriers—that theres a whole world of phones out there independent of the carriers shopping lists.
Motorolas Destination Q, a little ways north, has a different mission: demystifying a very complex smartphone and hopefully pushing it into the ranks of the mainstream, in a country where smartphones make up less than 10 percent of all cell phones.
Who wins the battle? Id rather buy a phone at Nokias store, thanks to its enticing selection of high-end gadgets you cant get anywhere else, like the Editors Choice N80 smartphone. But Id rather linger and learn at Destination Q—which shows what Nokia needs to accomplish to make its chain the Apple Stores of cell phones.
Nokia: Yes, You Can Buy From Us
In a narrow little storefront at 543 N. Michigan Avenue, the Nokia Flagship Store feels like a high-end boutique. World music plays as the walls softly glow and change colors—sea blue, lemon yellow, deep red—enhanced by abstract LCD displays along both long walls of the space. Inside, the phones are displayed like objects dart from Tiffanys: each on a little pedestal, with a brochure and a bit of explanatory text.
Cheaper phones, like the 6030 and 6102 sit up front, while the powerful imaging-focused N-series smartphones line the walls, interrupted by a bunch of Nokia 770 Internet tablets. In the back, theres a mini-store for Nokias luxury line Vertu; theyve sold two $19,000 Vertu phones in the month since the store opened.
I spent an hour in the store, and a steady stream of customers came through. The day the store opened, it was mobbed by Nokia smartphone fans snatching up $599.99 N80s. They had driven in from as far as Toronto and Iowa City, according to store manager Jeremy Esterl. But now theyve sold out of N80s, and theyre doing more business in Bluetooth headsets and mid-range phones like the 6822 fold-out messaging phone, Esterl said.