Differentiate yourself, preferably without relying on the same software that all of your competitors (except Apple) are using.
This might well have been the thinking behind today’s announcement of two new smartphones from HTC powered by Microsoft’s brand new mobile OS: Windows Phone 8.
The HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8S are two interpretations of what a Windows Phone 8 handset should be. The 8X is a 4.3″ touchscreen phone that boasts HD resolution, 8 and 2.3 MP rear and front cameras and NFC. It has 16GB of unexpandable internal memory and 4G/LTE cellular connectivity. The 8S for its part, is smaller at 4″ in diagonal measurement, is limited to 4G speeds and lacks a front camera. Its 4GB of memory can however be expanded via MicroSD up to 32GB. Both phones have non-user replaceable batteries.
Specs aside, it’s the design that really sets the 8X and 8S apart – at least in terms of HTC’s previous efforts. Rounded edges, super-smooth screen surfaces and a slightly rubberized back surface all make for a very pleasing phone to hold. But while these Windows Phone 8 handsets look different from other HTC models, they bear a striking resemblance to the other company that is going all-in on Windows Phone – namely, Nokia.
The Windows Phone 8X will come in a variety of colors including California Blue, Graphite Black, Flame Red and Limelight Yellow. The Windows Phone 8S by HTC will be available in Domino, Fiesta Red, Atlantic Blue and High-Rise Gray.
Aside from a few minor differences, HTC’s 8X and 8S look for all intents and purposes like the Nokia Lumia line of handsets.
This similarity has not gone unnoticed by Nokia, who have already chimed in with their opinion. They’re not impressed.
HTC disputes the similarity. HTC’s North American president, Mike Woodward claims that no one looking at the two phones could mistake one for the other.
We had a chance to go somewhat hands-on with the new devices at HTC’s well-attended launch event in New York.
I say somewhat because while we were able to hold the units and even listen to some audio tracks to get a sense of how the integrated amplifier and Beats Audio enhancement worked, we were not able to try out many of the Windows Phone 8 features such as web browsing, email or instant messaging.
What we were able to experience was the exceptional feel that HTC has managed to engineer into these phones. The screens were vivid and bright, without being over-saturated. They felt lightweight without feeling cheap, plasticky or fragile. The 8S will be particularly attractive to those with small hands, with its slightly narrower and shorter physical dimensions.
Also of note is the front-facing camera on the 8X. It has a unique ultra-wide angle lens which lets users compose self-portraits with way more room in the frame for friends or other background details.
HTC wasn’t offering any details around pricing beyond saying that the handsets are expected to be in market with Bell and Rogers in Canada for a November timeframe. However it would be reasonable based on the phones’ specs to expect something in the neighbourhood of $100-$175 on a contract.
When Steve Jobs now famously declared “We’re not perfect“, he was referring to the fact that despite their tremendous success over the past few years since launching the original iPhone, Apple can still make mistakes.
If he had left it at that, it’s likely that Friday’s press conference would have been seen as an appropriate demonstration of humility on the part of a company that had released a product which if nothing else, has a flaw that turned out to be bigger issue than expected. Most observers would likely have concluded that indeed, no one is perfect, and that Apple’s offer of a free case was the right thing to do, assuming that they would follow this measure up with more due-diligence to determine if the antenna problem had affected all of their iPhone 4’s or simply a small batch.
Unfortunately, Jobs elected to follow up his statement with a declaration that all smartphones to a greater or lesser degree, suffer the same problems as the iPhone. In essence, “We’re not perfect” became “We’re not perfect, and by the way, neither are our competitors”. It looked as though Apple had committed the classic mistake of trying to lessen the focus on their mistakes by pointing the finger at someone else. If this were a schoolyard squabble you could imagine Jobs saying to a teacher “Yeah, well I know I started the fight, but Johnny started a fight last week – why don’t you punish him too?”
Jobs cited RIM, Samsung and HTC’s smartphones as just as vulnerable to antenna problems when held in a certain way. He even showed some videos demonstrating what that looked like.
As you might expect, it hasn’t taken long for the companies that were dragged into the fight (and even one that wasn’t) to respond to Apple’s condemnation of an entire industry.
Gizmodo is reporting that Samsung has this to say following Apple’s demonstration of a reception-impaired Omnia 2 smartphone:
“The antenna is located at the bottom of the Omnia 2 phone, while iPhone’s antenna is on the lower left side of the device. Our design keeps the distance between a hand and an antenna. We have fully conducted field tests before the rollout of smartphones. Reception problems have not happened so far, and there is no room for such problems to happen in the future”
The message to Apple is clear: Go ahead and defend your product, but don’t implicate our product when you do it.
RIM was far more direct in their reaction, not mincing any words:
“Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation. RIM is a global leader in antenna design and has been successfully designing industry-leading wireless data products with efficient and effective radio performance for over 20 years. During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage. One thing is for certain, RIM’s customers don’t need to use a case for their BlackBerry smartphone to maintain proper connectivity. Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple.”
And somewhat suprisingly, Nokia, who wasn’t mentioned by name in Apple’s press conference, felt the need to make a few clarifying statements lest anyone think that their products suffer from Apple’s “Smartphones have weak spots” remark:
“Antenna design is a complex subject and has been a core competence at Nokia for decades, across hundreds of phone models. Nokia was the pioneer in internal antennas; the Nokia 8810, launched in 1998, was the first commercial phone with this feature.
Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying human behavior, including how people hold their phones for calls, music playing, web browsing and so on. As you would expect from a company focused on connecting people, we prioritize antenna performance over physical design if they are ever in conflict.
In general, antenna performance of a mobile device/phone may be affected with a tight grip, depending on how the device is held. That’s why Nokia designs our phones to ensure acceptable performance in all real life cases, for example when the phone is held in either hand. Nokia has invested thousands of man hours in studying how people hold their phones and allows for this in designs, for example by having antennas both at the top and bottom of the phone and by careful selection of materials and their use in the mechanical design.”
One thing’s for sure: we haven’t heard the last of “Antennagate” whether Apple recognizes it as a problem or not.