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A Walk Through Telstra's Android Wonderland

Yesterday Telstra unveiled is Android-flavoured answer to the Apple Store in Melbourne. Being a local, it made sense to head on over and check it out. Does the concept have a future, and what exactly does it add to the retail experience?

If you want an iOS handset, Apple makes it easy for you. You either get the top-of-the-line model, its less powerful predecessor, or a device that, comparatively, might as well be a Nokia 3210.

Android, on the other hand, is available on hardware from a range of manufacturers. If you’re trying to make the transition from Apple’s world, or you’re just getting your feet wet in the smartphone market, the spectrum of choice may appear daunting.

Enter Androidland.

Six months in the making, Androidland has now all but taken over the second floor of Telstra’s largest and most trafficked icon store, situated on the corner of Bourke and Swanston, right in the heart of Melbourne city. The official press release states it as a temporary takeover, but, if it proves successful, it could spread to other Telstra stores around Australia and, possibly, internationally.

It’s an experiment, to be sure, and while it shares similarities with Apple’s own glass-encased flagship stores, it’s far more understated and possessed with personality. Even before you enter, you’re greeted by a 60″ touch display on the outside wall of the building. When I visited yesterday, a child was slinging feathered combatants at green pigs in a game of Angry Birds. It’s one of iOS’s more iconic games — the humour isn’t lost on me — but it’s spread its wings to enough platforms now that the branding is not so closely tied to Apple’s devices as it once was.

Inside, a woman offers gingerbread Androids and cakes. Upstairs, a smell machine generates an odour called “Android Grass” that reminds me of a freshly-cut lawn, if that lawn had been previously infused with candy canes. An Android-themed skill-tester stands against a wall defiantly, tempting players to grab its free goodies… if they can. A set of four mildly creepy-looking clown machines with requisite ping-pong balls demand a still hand and sharp eye. I’m too scared to try them.

Android-powered devices from Samsung, HTC and Sony Ericsson are displayed in rows on lit stands, waiting for the curious to approach and play. At the back is a sectioned-off area. I’m told it was once an auditorium, but it’s been transformed into a play room of Android apps and Google technology. It features the only Liquid Galaxy set-up to be constructed outside of Google’s offices, or so I’m told. Using a three-dimensional joystick, you can explore the world, rolling it around and toying with its size like a real-life Katamari ball.

Finally, for the thirsty, “Tutti-Fruitti Lime”-flavoured slurpees are dispensed by employees. Whether this (and the baked treats of eariler) will be a continuing attraction is yet to be seen.

The bigger question is: Will it be the commercial success Telstra, and perhaps Google, want it to be? It’s a friendly environment, definitely, and if I were to make the switch to Android, I’d be sure to stop by to aid in my decision-making. The interesting fusion of business with an “experience” beyond product demonstrations gives the shop-within-a-shop a corporate Powerhouse Museum feel.

I won’t exactly be coming back every day to flog the heck out of the Liquid Galaxy, but I’m confident I’ll be dropping by during the length of its uncertain lifetime to see how it’s fairing.