Thursday, 21 February 2013

HTC One

So HTC are trying to gain market share after losing out to Samsung.

The new HTC One physically looks great, but I wont be getting one. Since the earliest HTC phones, HTC have customized the android interface with their custom UI - Sense. As with all things UI based this is a subjective area, some people love the SenseUI, other would prefer a Vanilla Android experience.

It seems nearly every phone manufacture is trying to differentiate their product based on UI customization. This begs the question - "is this what end users want?"

I don't think it is. Sure some customizations are nice but I think there are other more important things on end-users wishlists. The biggest complaint in the Android eco-system is fragmentation. HTC could be the first company to address this and by doing so win back customers.

How could HTC do this?

  1. Vanilla Android
  2. Commitment to OS updates
  3. SenseUI and Apps on Google Play (Respecting Customer choice)

Vanilla Android

Early version of Android weren't the best looking. But things have changed now. Android 4.2 looks great and doesn't really need customization. But the beauty of Android over other smartphone platforms is that end users can customize if they want.

Currently to get a Vanilla Android experience you are limited to Nexus devices, or to using a custom ROM - not practical for most end-users. No other manufacturers offer a vanilla Android experience, why?

Differentiating on hardware is no longer about the hardware specifications, most smartphone hardware is essentially the same, variations in CPUs, memory, screen sizes, pixel density, but all manufactures have comparable offerings in different value segments. Differentiating on hardware comes down to design - how the device looks, and feels in the users hand.

This should be what phone manufactures concentrate on, but they focus on product differentiation through UI modification.

Developing a custom UI takes time, resources and slows product releases. More importantly product OS updates take longer on phones with customized UIs this is something that end users care about. Security vulnerabilities need to be fixed quickly. If  the fix is available in latest Android code then it should be available to the end user as quickly as possible.


Commitment to OS updates

When releasing an Android phone make a commitment to OS updates - and keep it.

"This phone will receive Android updates for the next X years. For the first N years updates will be available within a month of an official Google release, after N years updates may be released on a slower timeline."

End users want this. Make no mistake. I want to know my phone with get all the improvements available (provided hardware support - NFC etc) with the latest Android release.


SenseUI on Google Play

Give end users choice. This is a value add.

Developing SenseUI takes time and money, some users might prefer it to the vanilla Android experience. So give users the choice of UI. Ship with vanilla Android but make the SenseUI and HTC apps available for free to HTC phones through the Google Play store.

Users that want SenseUI can install it (at the expense possibly of slower OS updates). Customers also get to download the HTC apps they want.

By using the Google Play store HTC get metrics on what apps are popular i.e. should they make a paid app for non-HTC phones? How popular is SenseUI with users, is it worth continuing development? Should it be made available on non-HTC phones?

By moving the software differentiation to the Google Play store HTC would be respecting its customers by giving them the choice to use SenseUI or not. If they have their is HTC app that every HTC user downloads, then maybe that's an app that can be monetized by making it available to non-HTC users.

Conclusion

By moving the software "value-add" (custom UIs and apps) to the Google Play store, products can ship with vanilla Android builds - this should reduce time to market for new product releases. The metrics from the Google Play store and be use to refine UI development (based on geography, carrier etc) or abandoned if it proves to be unpopular.

Allowing users to choose between faster Android updates or slower updates if using a custom UI allows you to win customers as they don't face an either/or choice. 

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