The greatest paradox in the smartphone wars is that of HTC. The smartphone manufacturer had a critical hit on its hands in 2013 with the HTC One, a beautiful and functional Android device that was a top choice for many reviewers last year. But the phone didn’t sell and HTC's profits and revenue suffered, so the future for the company remains uncertain.
HTC’s survival depends on how its next great flagship smartphone performs, and by the looks of the new HTC One M8 announced today, the company might have another critical success on its hands.
HTC’s biggest flaw last year had little to do with the One's software, hardware or design. It was that it built up so much hype and then shipped late.
The original HTC One was announced in mid-February with the promise it would be in stores by March. By the end of April, it was still nowhere to be found; the hype cycle passed it by when Samsung announced the Galaxy S4 and shipped it the following period.
HTC lost its window to dominate the news cycle, get its smartphones in consumer hands and build network effects. In the end, the HTC One was a good-looking device that fairly few people actually bought.
This year's follow-up to the HTC One will be available to 230 carriers across the world in 100 different countries and ship to most of them by the end of April.
HTC has learned from its mistakes. The One M8 is available today to order in the U.S. and will ship to most countries internationally on April 10 or by the end of April. It starts at $650 for 16 GB versions and will be available on contract for $199 through carriers in the U.S. You can walk into a Verizon store in the U.S. right now and buy the new HTC One M8 or order it from any one of the three of the four major American carriers (outside of T-Mobile, which hasn't announced availability except for sometime in April) and have it arrive this week.
For HTC, that is nothing short of a miracle.
Oh, and the phone is pretty snazzy too.
Top Of The Line For The One M8
HTC is one company that judges the wind of mobile very well while adhering to its own game. The new HTC One (despite the really awful M8 moniker) is everything that reviewers liked about the original HTC One, and then some.
Any discussion of HTC phones starts with design. The HTC One M8 is a little bigger than its predecessor with a 5-inch screen with a 440 pixel-per-inch display. The body is bigger and has the same “Boom” speakers, though they have been redesigned to be louder and clearer. HTC is employing the brand new Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor that Qualcomm announced earlier this year, which means the HTC One M8 will release with top-of-the-line internal specs to go along with its sleek industrial design.
The metal unibody from the original HTC One is back in the M8 model, with 90% metal (as opposed to 70% in the last version) and a polished mirror finish and hairline texture. HTC will release the M8 in a variety of metallic colors, including gold, gray and silver.
The battery on the HTC One M8 is 2,600 mAh and HTC has promised both power-saving and “ultra power-saving” modes. In ultra power-saving mode, the battery can last up to two weeks on standby, basically only receiving and sending texts and phone calls. Power-saving modes are commonplace on devices running Android these days.
The Camera Is Seeing Double
HTC likes to get tricky with the cameras on its phones. The One M8 has two back cameras, including one with a 28 mm lens that uses HTC's so-called “Ultra Pixel” technology, which purportedly captures more light than a regular megapixel camera. The second camera on the HTC One M8, positioned above the main camera, captures detailed depth information about a scene through hardware. It knows which objects are closer to the camera which are further away and can use its hardware—as opposed to software—to tell the difference. It's really not all that different from what other smartphone cameras do, but basically, the second camera on the HTC One M8 is a hardware depth sensor that acts like HDR software. The idea of the camera is impressive, but an initial review from The Verge says the quality is only mediocre.
The front camera on the HTC One M8 is a 5-megapixel, wide-angle camera that, from a specs perspective, is one the best to be featured on the front of a smartphone.
HTC is opening the camera hardware up to developers through an API to build upon its new features.
The Sixth Sense
HTC has done a couple of good things to the launcher it traditionally lays on top of its products, called HTC Sense. Now in its sixth iteration (HTC playfully calls "Sense 6" as the "Sixth Sense"), HTC shows it has learned some lessons about software deployment.
HTC has completely redesigned Sense, pixel by pixel. It has also opened it up. BlinkFeed, the newsfeed-like homescreen introduced in the first HTC One, is now open to developers so they can provide contextual information for users. FitBit and Foursquare are the first partners in the new BlinkFeed, showing both location-relevant information and exercise statistics to users of those services.
Importantly, HTC Sense updates will soon be available through Google Play. Instead of waiting for a full firmware update that needs to be run through the carriers, HTC can just update Sense as if it were an app in Google Play.
HTC said it will also release Google Play and Developer editions of the HTC One M8, which will not feature the full Sense 6 launcher.
HTC has also changed the homescreen on the One M8 to receive gesture controls for simple actions like telling the time or seeing one's notifications without needing to press the power button. In this way, HTC has basically created its own type of capabilities for the One M8 similar to Motorola and its Moto X smartphone, thanks to the X8 computing system. The HTC One M8 can sense proximity, speed and motion through sensors that always stay on but remain at low power, so as not to drain the phone's battery.
The bottom line? It looks like HTC has a winner on its hands with the HTC One M8. It will be critically reviewed by all smartphone illuminati and many users will probably like it if they buy one. Whether people actually do buy this new phone will go a long way in answering the paradox that is HTC’s market position and future viability.