Smartphone customers are always on the lookout for the “perfect” smartphone. So far, we haven’t seen it, not yet anyway. There’s always something that’s just not “good enough” to be perfect. The camera isn’t great. It doesn’t have an SD card slot. The battery is too small. There’s no Qi wireless charging in it. The screen uses the “wrong” technology. The colors aren’t “Miniman-tastic” (or is it “Miniman-ilicious”). You get my point. In short, manufacturers have to keep pandering to a constantly moving target and a sometimes fickle customer-base — and they’ve got to do it without giving you everything so you’ll want to buy the next version as soon as it’s released.
That’s where we sit today, on the figurative eve of a new flagship smartphone from HTC. The industry is calling it the HTC M8. I’m calling it awesome — at least I hope it will be. But what if the HTC M8 looks just like the HTC One? What if you can’t tell the difference between the HTC M8 versus HTC One? That would be a colossal mistake — or pure genius.
A Colossal Mistake
Samsung came out with some really nice phones in the last few years. The Galaxy S III and Galaxy S4 are both great devices, even today. Unfortunately, they look almost identical. Unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, you’ll probably mistake one for the other at some time. Even the Galaxy S II looks remarkably like its two younger siblings.
While this helped solidify the “Galaxy” brand, it also meant the incentive for users to upgrade, or even to buy the latest version instead of “last year’s model” was all but removed. Why pay an extra US$150 for the latest and greatest when the other one looks just like it, and works every bit as good?
Android Power Users™ know the value of getting the highest-end device that one can afford, but to the masses, getting “what works” will usually suffice. This mistake ate into the sales of the Galaxy S4 significantly — just how much, we may never know.
Luckily, Samsung seems to have learned from its misstep, and recent devices look “recognizably different” from their predecessors. Financially, HTC isn’t in a position to sacrifice potential sales of their latest flagship due to confusion with “all the other HTC One’s”.
On the other hand, making the HTC M8 look significantly similar to the HTC One family could be a streak of pure genius.
Unlike the Galaxy line, which was a monolithic slab of slimy plastic, the HTC One incorporates aluminum and front-firing speakers. There’s something to be said for holding a solid-feeling piece of metal in your hand. It’s sleek coolness conveys confidence and just feels “right”.
Metal aside, it’s those speakers that are the genius behind the One series. Come on, people! When you’re listening to your phone or tablet, chances are that you’re looking at the screen, right? Having rear-firing speakers makes about as much sense as an away-facing screen. It’s stupid. This is one area that HTC has gotten exactly right. It’s the single most recognizable feature that HTC has going for it — and it can’t risk changing that — not now anyway.
HTC has a fine line to walk. It’s got to make a phone that feels every bit as great as the HTC One family, and it’s got to keep those front-firing speakers — but it’s got to somehow make the M8 look “recognizably different” than the HTC One, but still recognizable enough that people will know it’s an HTC just by looking at it.
It’s not going to be easy, but I’m holding out hope for more “genius” than “mistake” once we get our hands on the HTC M8.
Image Credit: Star Trek cookies by Sweet Sugarbelle