Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Nokia Lumia Experience House Soho

The first I heard of Nokia Experience House in Soho was when barely a week after Nokia World in November, I received an email from Nokia UK asking me to drop by their new temporary office to collect a Lumia 800 review unit. This was one of the few moments when a manufacturer offered to meet in person before handing out review units. Most of the time, PR agencies would rather post units to reviewers, which is fine and all especially if you do not live or work in London. But the lack of face to face communication isn't something I particularly enjoy.

The concept of a temporary pop up office set up for tech journalist is certainly intriguing at least from my perspective. There is little doubt that Nokia House was born from a marketing point of view, and there is a good post by my friend Benjamin Fox about the popup office (or Experience House as Nokia calls it) from a digital marketing POV here. But enough waffle, let me tell you tell you a story about the Nokia Lumia Experience House in Soho. Despite the mention of the Lumia 800, this has nothing to do about the phone and more of my experience from a freelance mobile reviewer/blogger's point of view and why holding intimate one-to-one meetup is important to me.
Nokia has been aggressive in making the media gets accessed to Lumia 800 units as quickly as possible, and were very keen to hand them out in person for whatever reason they have. This provides them with the unique opportunity to demonstrate Windows Phone to the many journalists who has yet to experience it, as well as invite visitors to learn the design journey of the Lumia 800. I was joined by three other fellow reviewers on my first visit, one who was the famously outspoken IT columnist Andrew Orlowski (incidentally, Orlowski has been a critic of Nokia's strategy for many years but has been very positive of the Lumia 800 in his review on The Register).

The four of us were ushered to the first floor of the House where a number of demo Lumia 800 were set up with laptops and accessories in stow. We were guided to each demo sections where we were demonstrated each key features of Windows Phone 7, from the social networking side to Microsoft Office integration to SkyDrive, their cloud-based service. Also on demonstration is Nokia Music, an exclusive Nokia app for purchasing and streaming music. I was told that as Nokia House was only a popup event space, it will be gone by Christmas, but we were welcomed to drop by and visit at any time.
While I was impressed by my short visit to the House, the thought of revisiting never occurred to me. That was until two weeks later when my Lumia was 'recalled' to undergo a firmware upgrade. In this visit the ground floor was redecorated and features a more opened space reception where I sat watching columnists from a well known fashion magazine (the title escapes me) receiving one-to-one demonstrations from Nokia training staffs. The unusually warm November sun poured in from Greek Street, giving the reception a nice cosy and intimate feel.

When Nokia extended the lease through the new year, I made several more visits. With each revisit I noticed tiny changes, mainly to the furnishing. The first floor is now furnished with pictures of Nokia House guests and occupants. The reception has been turned into an office for their social media team. The office of course was always opened for the media to use. On my visit to photograph the white Lumia 800, I actually edited the photographs, wrote the post and published from the very office. It was also difficult not to eavesdrop on their discussion a few feet away for a new Facebook competition. The transparency was comforting and at no point did I feel pressurised to pack up and move on.
Last Thursday I received an email from Claire of Nokia Press informing me that Nokia House would close on the 29 February. This came a surprise to me as a couple of weeks ago Mark, the communications chief, excitedly said to me that would be extending the Greek Street HQ up to summer. Obviously the landlord of the building thought differently. So on Friday I decided to pay what may be my final visit to the House, to take pictures for this blog post, but mainly say goodbye and thank the people who ran the House. It was a pleasure to meet Emma again and discuss post her Nokia House gig. It was a shame Mark wasn't in, but I did bump into him later nearby outside.

Very few mobile brands goes the extra mile, though I can always rely on Three UK, Sony Ericsson and indeed Nokia to do so. I have to stress that their forward approach and invitations to parties does not equate to me giving favourable reviews and vice versa. I blogged and tweeted some pretty nasty stuff in the past about all of these brands, and will continue to do so whenever they merit such feedback, like, you know, whenever they release awful products.
Nokia has made countless of bad decisions in the past couple of years, and even continue to do so, so it is nice to see them doing something right for once. I do admit, from a mobile's perspective Nokia isn't a brand that connects to me emotionally (very few brands do anyway). Unlike many mobile enthusiasts I have met, my first, and in fact my next five, phones wasn't a Nokia. Still there is a fascinating history and rich heritage behind the Finnish brand I respect and can't help admire even if I am no fan of all their products. And it wasn't difficult to appreciate the hard work and care that they obviously put into this Experience House.

So thanks to Mark, Emma, Vicki, Matt and others who has always made me feel at home. It is a shame that when the inevitable Windows 8 tablet is announced soon, there will be no Nokia House to look forward to having our hands-on in. I hope Nokia and the other manufacturers will learn something out of this little experiment. After all being social does exist outside that of Twitter and email.

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