A funny thing happened on my way home this past Wednesday. Around midday I decided to stop at my local Starbucks and grab a cup of coffee while taking in all the pomp and spectacle that HTC had to offer in the form of the new Windows Phone 8S and Windows Phone 8X devices.
There were the usual themes that we’ve come to know from any briefing involving Windows Phone. HTC executives went on record about how close their partnership with Microsoft had become. The audience heard –or rather was reputedly informed of, how the guys in Taiwan’s new devices took Windows Phone in a whole new direction. (Including a very interesting moment, where the audience was told that HTC “designed these phones for people”. You know, as opposed to apes carrying credit cards and armed with thumbs.)
I watched for updates via Engadget’s live blog as HTC engineers discussed the fruits of their labor. They seem to have gone on for minutes about how “designing these devices for Windows Phone from the ground up” made them the premiere devices to run the operating system. Even Steve Ballmer was on hand to talk about how Microsoft’s strategic partnership with HTC was going to be able to bring the most advanced smartphones for interested consumers. The transcripts of what was going on in New York City at that press conference made me believe I’d been kidnapped and left in some kind of foreign reality where people took what HTC and Microsoft were saying seriously and hippies actually thought that ordering double-shot espressos plus random coffee drinks entitled them to make fun of my using a computer on a patio to read. It was strange, nutty even.
“Then the show was over and for a brief second I had hope…”
Then the show was over and for a brief second I had hope. Hope that people would see HTC’s moves for what they were, a cheap ploy to shore up their support for an ecosystem they’d taken for granted. I expected, – hell knew for a fact that those that were in the know could see through HTC’s dual colored smartphone glasses. But nothing of the sort happened. Instead I began to hear talk that Microsoft had somehow managed to position HTC as another huge strategic partner, that by bestowing the Windows Phone branding on HTC’s devices specially Microsoft was proving a point, that these devices were in fact the best Windows Phones you could buy this coming fall.
I’ll have whatever these guys are having.
Anyone who tells you that you should consider these devices over the Nokia Lumia 920 or 820 is –in my opinion about as stable as any potential Lindsay Lohan offspring could hope to be, that is to say completely and utterly unhinged. I’ve heard talk from just about every talking head this week and the consensus seems to be that the Windows Phone 8X and 8S by HTC are wonderful devices that bring Nokia some well needed competition. I’ve no argument against that, HTC smartphones have historically been the crème of the crop. Hell, my HD7 still dutifully gets me through my hectic schedule. So than what’s my problem? Saying the Windows Phone 8X and 8S are on the same level as a Nokia device is pretty much a giant red flag that someone doesn’t understand why people buy the most successful smartphone to date: Apple’s iPhone. These people don’t understand that it isn’t just about the device in your hand when you walk out of your local T-Mobile.
No, people properly following along in this space know that having a great device doesn’t mean crap if you don’t have the ecosystem to support those users. At no point during Wednesday’s briefing did I see any mention of exclusive first-party applications. At no time did any HTC executive talk to us about an exclusive software experience that can only be had on one of their phones, and I suspect it’s because there isn’t much behind either of those curtains. And if my theory is correct that’s really too bad because it really does mean there are no OEMs as dedicated to Windows Phone (apparently we’ve decided to collectively call this state of mind “all in”), as Nokia. How do we know this? We’ve all heard of, and at some point wanted Nokia’s exclusive software. Nokia City Lens, Nokia Drive, Nokia Maps, Nokia Music, and Nokia Transport? All top applications in their respective fields. All terrific apps designed to improve your everyday experiences with Nokia’s phones. There is also the matter of the third-party applications that Nokia has had some part in developing for the platform and are therefore limited-time exclusives for Nokia. I’m talking things like Bloomberg, E*TRADE, Instagram, and an enhanced version of Vimeo. Now imagine giving all that up in exchange for HTC Watch, the HTC Hub, and if you are so moved –Flashlight. Yes, Beats Audio is a step in the right direction but let’s not give it more credit than it deserves.
“Soft-touch plastic backing just doesn’t have the same pizazz as standards-compliant wireless charging. (Do a poll, I dare you.)”
Accessories also heavily factor into this equation. Nokia devices not only have Near Field Communication functionality for things like connecting to first-party Bluetooth accessories easily, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg here. Soft-touch plastic backing just doesn’t have the same pizazz as standards-compliant wireless charging. (Do a poll, I dare you.)
Hell it isn’t just about software or accessories either. Nokia consistently pushes phone updates when necessary. Their applications are equally well maintained, I can’t remember the last time HTC’s Dock Mode application received an update, functional or otherwise.
I’m not saying HTC’s new lineup isn’t made up of impressive devices. They are amazing, for a brief second I thought about buying a Windows Phone 8X, Day One. Then, as if I’d walked outside during a late night house party, I began to approach my impending Windows Phone crossroads with a level of clarity only fresh air and alcohol poisoning can bring. Do we as users desire a great device or a great ecosystem? Do we support the guys who breathe life into our beloved mobile platform with new exclusive applications from top-tier services and developers, deliver well integrated unique accessories to extend our experience, serve such interesting differentiating software as HTC Love? Or do we go with the guys who continuously replace other operating systems on their devices with the Windows Phone OS, and deliver one off accessories with absolutely no follow up? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying HTC didn’t show up to the party with a cool nickname and clothes that look remarkably similar to what the cool kids are wearing these days. I’m saying they did both of those things, managed to bring nice tasting punch but forgot the cups.