I came up in an era where Expansys.com looked a lot less like a blog and was more of an equivalent to eyeballing a fall preview collection in the window of your nearest Bloomindales. An era where the burnt orange theme of Xda-developers is all I saw when I closed my eyes to sleep. An era where the phrase “Hard-SPL now available” was as good as an e-mail from your primary bank confirming arrival of your bi-weekly salary. At the center of it all was the beloved HTC and all their glory.
My my my how things have changed. I haven’t been to Expansys in months, Xda is more of a leisure stop and I’ve had no need for a Hard-SPL in years. Like wise, I am not sure if there is any more love in my heart for HTC and I damn sure can’t account for much, if any glory coming from their direction! But let us not forget the legacy HTC has, after all, who else can spell Titan “TYTN” and get away with it?
Windows Mobile was the OS and “broken” was the theme. By the time HTC got a hold of WM, it was already 6 years old, it had been around the block a few times and was in the “would you like some lipstick for your pig?” stage. But, I never cared, we, the geeks, never cared. Nothing worked and it was our job to make it work. Teak it to hell, .cab it to hell and defend it like hell!
Then came the super shift in the space and time continuum Apple called the iPhone, quickly followed by something less impressive (depending on what side of the fence you stand) Google called Android. These were dark days for a Microsoft fanboy like myself. Apple ignited the consumer, Google charmed the geeks and the word “smartphone” was now redefined. HTC was sold the Android dream, and done so with ease. But, I couldn’t be mad at that, Microsoft was no where to be found, and Android was just as broken. To many, HTC’s adoption of Android was business as usual. Hours of your time wasted, post after post of bitching and not one good day of stability on your device to be spoken for.
Enter Windows Phone 7. Pun intended, Return Of The King was indeed upon us. It was time to unfold my Microsoft flag once again. But things weren’t the same. WP7 worked, it was stable and it wasn’t big on tweaks, AT ALL! What the hell was this?! I am sure this was HTC’s question to Microsoft. HTC had now moved their Windows Mobile birthed “Sense UI” to Android and was making a killing. Lets try to understand this, as this helped to understand HTCs current state. Windows Mobile was ugly, it was completely unintuitive and you had to be some sort of C++ designer to understand how it worked. So, HTC set out to make it as user friendly and consumer compliant as possible. Their solution was called “Sense.”
Android was ugly, it was simple (not in a good way) and bland as all hell, you had to be some sort of Google engineer to really like it. So, HTC gathered all their experience and know how, and ported it to Android. Their solution was called Sense. Ah ha! Now its starting to make sense! It is now that I understand where HTC’s genius lies. See, many look to them as a hardware giant (and they are,) but the real “special” in HTC comes from their ability to make things pretty! Even if that pretty came at a price (2 hour battery life and a hell of an unstable package,) they damn sure knew how to make it pretty!
What does this have to do with anything? Windows Phone really stumped HTC. Microsoft put a foot down and refused to allow any kind of customization to Windows Phone. Rightfully so, but what in the world was HTC to do with that? Its almost as if HTC never cared about what OS they used as a platform, as long as they could “fisher price” it up with pretty buttons and animated weather icons, they were in. They couldn’t do that with Windows Phone, and it really showed. This meant, their innovation no longer had to be on the software side, but hardware. Judging from the last two years worth of HTC Windows Phone devices, I would say Microsoft left HTC looking like a duck out of water.
The hardware was unimpressive for more than a few reasons. First, all Windows Phone devices HTC released, saw a sister on the Android platform. It was as if they never cared enough to put some effort into the partnership. It was as if they were doing just enough to do just enough. Secondly, HTC was knee deep in incremental hardware cycles. Each “new” phone looked a tiny bit different from the last phone (which was released 3 months before,) because of this, none of their hardware (both Windows Phone and Android) was special enough to love.
Perhaps I was just being harsh on HTC, maybe it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t until I read a piece on a letter HTC’s CEO sent, pretty much admitting they needed to dial back on the releases and focus on fewer models. I knew I wasn’t going crazy! Even the CEO was feeling a lot less special about his brand, ouch! Sense UI 4 is still a “feature” on every HTC device sold as of late, but it is now less prominent than ever before. HTC is actually pulling back and giving us “functional” instead of pretty. Of course, this isn’t all HTC, Android has seen its fair share of maturity and is sucking a lot less these days. But now this puts HTC in a better place to embrace the upcoming Windows Phone 8.
I think they’ve got the message, let the OS do what it does, but make sure the hardware is special! My faith in HTC is shaken for sure, especially now that Nokia is bull dogging the scene and Samsung is running the block. But, some where deep down inside, I want to believe HTC can and will innovate on the hardware side again. I want to once again browse Expansys and scheme on some sort of crazy plan to raise $699 to afford the new HTC Windows Phone device. Although they’re still in bed with Android, I am willing to open my heart once more, can they do it?