There’s something about the introduction of the HTC Mini that almost screams “failure.” Like a lawn sprinkler that only works when it’s raining, or a can of bug spray that comes with a fly swatter, a phone that’s so uncomfortable to use that it needs to have a separate, tiny companion phone feels like a tacit admission from the manufacturer that its product is broken beyond repair. I’m sure HTC is going to find itself the target of much ridicule over the release of the HTC Mini, and I think that’s a shame, because it’s a solid idea for a product that maybe just wasn’t launched in the most appropriate manner.
For those of you who missed news of the Mini last week, we learned that HTC had been bundling its Butterfly – the version of the five-inch Droid DNA being sold in China – with the HTC Mini, a little Bluetooth handset that resembles a run-of-the-mill cordless phone. That way, instead of having to hold the 2.78-inch-wide Butterfly to your face at a comfortable angle, you could keep it in a bag or large pocket, and use the Mini to check your text messages, get call notifications, and place and receive calls at your leisure.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: the HTC Butterfly isn’t THAT big. You’ve got to remember that we talk about screen sizes based on diagonal measurements, and the screen’s actual width (and correspondingly, the phone’s width) increases at a greatly reduced rate relative to that diagonal. When it comes to how comfortable a phone is while taking calls, width is arguably the most important measurement, and the 2.78-inch Butterfly really isn’t appreciably larger than its peers. For comparison, the Galaxy S III boasts the very same dimension, the Nexus 4 is still 2.7 inches wide, and even the HTC One S, with its 4.3-inch screen, is just 2.6 inches wide – there’s not a lot of variation here.
I think that should make it clear that the Butterfly absolutely didn’t NEED a smaller companion phone to make it usable – this isn’t like trying to use a Nexus 7 as a phone, after all. That makes HTC’s move to position the Mini as a Butterfly accessory an absolutely horrible decision.
From where I stand, the Mini would make a pretty decent accessory for any number of smartphones, and attaching it to a five-inch model like HTC did is only going to damage the product’s reputation. I’m not crazy about using regular slate form factor smartphones to make calls in the first place, and if I’m going to be on a call for any appreciable length of time, I’ll transfer it over to an old flip-phone. After all, smartphones are primarily designed for their use with data services, and as each year passes, it feels like voice service is more and more of an afterthought.
What HTC should have done is positioned the Mini as a separate product, just as relevant to the One S as to the Butterfly, for people who aren’t that fond of using ANY smartphone as a phone. You still have all the power and flexibility of a smartphone at your disposal, and if you forget to bring along the Mini or it loses its charge, you can still make calls with the smartphone itself. But for people who don’t mind having a little something extra to carry around (and from what I’ve seen, the Mini look fantastically light and thin), a product like the Mini would be a lovely option to offer your customers.
It may not even be too late for the Mini. If HTC introduces the accessory in other markets, and most importantly, as a separate product not intimately tied to an “oversized” smartphone model, I really think it could develop a following. The company needs to make the Mini less about a cure for talking on big smartphones, and more about one that gives users new ways to interact with ANY smartphone. Based on what I’ve heard about the Mini’s other non-phone uses, like how it can be used as a remote when your smartphone’s connected to a TV for media playback, I think its safe to say that HTC isn’t too far off from being comfortable with that idea.
So what do you say, HTC? Can you change how the Mini is seen in your lineup of devices so that it gets the shot I think it deserves?