Apple's 2001 decision to open a chain of glossy white boutiques was thought to be pretty risky at the time -- there was no shortage of pundits declaring that the stores would fail spectacularly. (To be fair, no other manufacturer made it work except Sony, kind of. Read on.) Six years and several million iPods later, of course, the stores are a resounding success, and flagship stores are suddenly all the rage. Not every manufacturer's getting so lucky at the mall, however -- Randall Stross of the New York Times compared his experiences at a couple of Sony's 39 retail stores with a visit to an Apple Store, and came away less than impressed. Stross found both Sony outlets virtually deserted except for inattentive salespeople and security personnel, while the Apple Store was packed with shoppers and friendly staff. The Sony stores, according to the "retail consultants" Stross later talked to, are merely "places of stuff," a condition which makes them not "shop-able," while the Apple outlets "extend an emotional connection." Stross concludes that Sony would do better if they had a hit product (duh) but we think the real secret is something a little different (no pun intended) -- Stross quotes a consultant who says all you need to do is "absorb the fumes" at an Apple Store and you "feel like the smartest technophile in the world." Man, that RDF is some pretty powerful stuff, eh?