With the One M8 HTC has done it again: created a beautiful, feature-rich phone that pushes at several envelopes. It even pulled off the trick of lining up its announcement and the phone’s launch (which explains all the leaks). As of today at 1 p.m. ET, following the global introduction of HTC’s newest flagship, the One M8 will be available to order from AT&T (for delivery as soon as tomorrow), Sprint and T-Mobile.
“You can walk out of a Verizon Wireless store with it today,” said a grinning Jason Mackenzie, president of HTC America, at the New York City event.
“When all is said and done,” Mackenzie added, the M8 will be available from 230 carriers in more than 100 countries.
With the business of developing and launching a beautiful (several analysts have said “sexy”) feature-rich phone complete, the matter now inevitably turns to whether HTC can in fact get people walking out of stores with it.
HTC One M8: Key Features
The M8 features a 5-inch Full HD 1080p display and measures 146.4 by 70.6 by 9.35mm (that makes it a few millimeters taller and wider but just as thin as its predecessor, which had a 4.7-inch display).
The M8 has curved edges, a curved back and a full gunmetal façade with a “brushed hairline texture” that according to HTC are the results of, respectively, huge breakthroughs in antenna technology (antennas of the past haven’t loved metal cases that wrap all the way around and up the screen’s edges) as well as numerous design iterations.
“To be honest, we failed a lot of times before we got it right,” said Lead Designer Johan Becker at the event, adding that what HTC ultimately achieved looks “more akin to jewelry than a phone.”
Another key feature of the One M8, as the leaks clued us in to, are its dual rear cameras, which make it possible for users to enjoy advanced photography tools and take more creative photos without turning to additional apps. For example, it’s possible to achieve a Bouquet Effect, in which an item in the foreground is crisp while the background is pleasantly blurred, or vice versa.
“You just tap [the display] and it turns a good photo into a great photo,” said Becker, demonstrating how to achieve that effect, and others.
On the phone’s flipside, there are also improvements. Becker told the crowd that 2013 “was the year of the selfie.”
With the M8, and its 5-megapixel wide-angle front camera, 2014 may be the year of the more attractive selfie.
HTC also added sensors, so the phone can do things like answer a call when the phone is lifted to a user’s ear but also improve battery life. Instead of pressing the power button to check the time—a thing some users do 100-plus times a day, nipping away at battery life—M8 users can view home screen content “with just a single gesture, without touching the power button,” said Becker.
Regarding the home screen, HTC has improved BlinkFeed—software that collects a fresh stream of content from news sources and various apps chosen by the user— and made it more useful, in part by sharing its API and bringing in partners.
Foursquare, for example, can be incorporated to begin sharing lunch ideas around lunch time (the app knows it’s lunch time and what neighborhood you’re in), while Fitbit, another new partner, can send activity data into a user’s Activity Hub.
These improvements also tie into the latest version of HTC’s user interface, Sense 6.0.
“Or as we like to call it, Sixth Sense,” said Becker. “It makes the M8 more intuitive to your needs.”
HTC Introduces One M8 Smartphone, Available Today
HTC CEO Peter Chou also used the term, saying the M8 is “aware of its environment and so it can know what you may want to do. It’s like a sixth sense.”
“Must … resist … obvious … ‘Sixth Sense’ joke …” Technology Business Research Analyst Jack Narcotta tweeted during HTC’s event, referring to the movie in which several of the main characters are dead.
HTC, with the One M8, is of course trying to pull a foot (if not both feet) out of the grave. While the company has made several very good phones, its brand or marketing machine—or maybe its phones—have been no match for the machine that is Samsung.
“Last year, HTC made a great smartphone and nobody bought it,” Jan Dawson, principal analyst with Jackdaw Research, tweeted during the event. “Why do we expect the result to be any different now, absent better marketing?”
“HTC’s problems lie in marketing and brand awareness, not in the phone itself,” Dawson said in a blog post after the M8 event. “If you want a premium experience today, you choose an iPhone, and if you really want to use Android, you choose a Samsung Galaxy phone. HTC simply hasn’t carved out more than a tiny niche for itself in the market.”
Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen told eWEEK that we’re living in a replacement market, meaning that today basically everyone who wants a smartphone now has one.
“Do I need the new sensor? Is the visual appeal enough to make me switch? For the most part, no,” said Nguyen. “So what you’re seeing is HTC and others realize that they have to expand the ecosystem, and that’s why you see all of these announcements around wearables.”
Why would people who aren’t buying HTC phones buy an HTC wearable?
“The point is, I already have a similar device, regardless of how HTC wants to position it,” Nguyen said. “What is this phone bringing to me that’s so much greater than what I have that it will make me want it? That’s what makes this [smartphone] era so competitive and difficult.”
Still, Nguyen agrees that advertising—which is emotional—will have to be part of the solution for HTC.
“The emotional appeal at this point is still tied to the ecosystem. … Before it was, ‘Look at what these smartphones can do!’ Now, I already do those things. You have to take the emotional appeal to the next level.”