It seems that HTC has copped a lot of flack in the last few days following the official announcement of its new HTC One A9, which really only adds to the criticism the brand has been receiving for a little while now. There have been accusations levied that HTC has simply given up on its design prowess and simply copied Apple’s iPhone design, that they’ve compromised their design message by immediately going on the defensive … as with most industries, pundits will have their say whether they should or not.
Watching HTC move and change over the last five years, from the first Nexus handset (the stunning Nexus One) through to the HTC One range over the last two years has been rather interesting. HTC has always been proud of its design, and for good reason. Like the Nexus One before it, the HTC One, back in 2013, was ground-breakingly stunning. Unfortunately, using that same design in 2014 on the HTC One M8 was a touch of a misstep, and sticking with it in 2015 was (in my opinion, at least) a really bad idea.
What HTC has shown with the unveiling of the One A9 is that it can learn; it can learn when a design is finished, and move forward to something that could be much more appealing to the consumer. The HTC One M9 was a good phone, but in some ways it was over designed; a phone is a disposable piece of consumer tech. Most people keep them for a year, maybe two, not often more, and leading with a message about how the phone had been designed and crafted in the manner a jeweller would design a fine ring or watch … it’s just not what the phone consumer wants to hear, values, or even cares about.
I think Ausdroid is in a good position to comment on what a phone should and shouldn’t be — not only do we see an awful lot of them, use many, and review plenty, but we also have the benefit of our readers’ feedback too.
A phone should be well designed, yes, but to a point; first and foremost, it needs to do certain things well. It needs to be a good phone. It needs to be understated. It needs to be functional, last all day, and offer some good features, like a strong camera, and ideally, it should be resistant to the realities of daily life. It should survive being dropped, or in a perfect world, immersed.
The materials it’s made from, the way those materials are arranged, and how many hundred hours are spent assembling them … these are things that, really, no one cares about, and that’s especially so where the phone doesn’t deliver the essentials. Think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and that laundry-list of what a phone needs is right down the bottom (as the absolute essentials), and impeccable design and craftsmanship are much further up the list.
With the HTC One A9, it is at least possible that HTC have nailed the basic needs, and actually matched it with an appropriately understated and yet attractive design. Does it look like an iPhone? Superficially, it bares some resemblance, but who cares?
That HTC becomes defensive against such an accusation is not, to my mind important, nor is it a distraction from HTC’s message. HTC’s message with the One A9 has to be “we see your expensive smartphones, and we think we can do it at less cost without compromising on performance or design”, and if it is, that message remains loud and clear.
I want HTC’s One A9. Not because it shows some passing similarities to an iPhone. Not because it’s the most powerful with the best of everything. Not for any of that.
I want it because it’s an HTC, and for a time there, HTC set the standard of what Android should be. I think they could do it again.
Every manufacturer can make an incredible phone if the retail pricing target is $1000 to $1200. That’s not a challenge, and it’s perhaps unsurprising that many of the phones in this price range are actually a bit dull. I’m not going to be impressed at that ultra-premium price point anymore.
If you want to impress me, do what HTC is doing. Deliver a stylish handset, with premium features, for an affordable, realistic price, and you’re leading the pack. Motorola have just about done this with their Moto X Play / Moto X Style, and I think HTC are doing exactly this with their One A9.