- 24 Jun 09, 15:53 GMT
A glitzy launch in a trendy Shoreditch location, with technology journalists flying in from all over the world - it sounds like the kind of event that Apple would lay on. But this was the unveiling of the phone that could - just could - provide a worthy challenger to the iPhone.
Yes, I know you've heard it all before - everyone from Blackberry to LG, from Samsung to Nokia - has stepped up to the plate with smart and shiny touchscreen devices which were going to prove that Apple's success in the smartphone stakes was a mere flash in the pan. And they've all failed to knock the iPhone from its perch because none has had its sheer usability.
But could the HTC Hero - the new device unveiled in Shoreditch - finally crack it?
The Taiwanese firm has a good track record in making smart devices, hitherto mainly on the Windows Mobile platform. But its phones have appealed mainly to techies rather than a wider market - a fact implicitly acknowledged in the launch presentation. They showed us a series of interviews with people on the streets talking about their mobiles - and a frequent comment was "phones have too many features made for techies."
So the Hero, a phone that takes Google's Android operating system and makes it even more user-friendly, is aimed fairly and squarely at non-techies. In the presentation there was hardly a mention of all those aspects the true geeks love to hear about - the 5 megapixel camera, the expandable memory, the AGPS - all of which are present on the phone.
Instead, the focus was on "putting people at the centre", allowing the user to personalise the device to the nth degree. So, for instance, you can have everything about one friend - their e-mails, their texts, their Facebook statues, their Flickr photos - all in one view. You can choose which applications - e-mail, music, weather - to make easily available, and which to hide, and you can have different settings for work, home, or holiday.
The look and feel of the phone was also a major theme, from the angled mouthpiece to a non-smudging touchscreen. It wasn't "hard and slippery" like some other phones, we were told, but soft to the touch, thanks to a Teflon coating. Now, in the few minutes I had to play with the Hero, I can't say that its non-slip coating was particularly exciting - but I was impressed by what I could see of the user-interface.
The iPhone has succeeded because it has made what were "geeky" things simple - from viewing a web page to trimming a video and sending it to YouTube. The Hero seems to have learned that lesson.
But Apple has also succeeded in the phone business because of its marketing strategy. It has one device, on one network, acompanied by one enormous marketing blitz, and when consumers hear the word "iPhone", they recognise that in a way they don't recognise the N96, the Omnia or the Viewty.
Here's where the HTC device may run into trouble. It's being offered across Europe by two networks, Orange and T-Mobile. Fine, as long as they unite around one marketing message. But when I returned to my desk from the launch, I found an e-mail from T-Mobile headlined "G1 Touch Joins T-Mobile Android Family." Puzzled, I rang to inquire whether this was yet another phone, but discovered that T-Mobile had decided to sell the Hero under its own brand, with no mention of HTC.
Convincing consumers that the Hero is more fun, fashionable and usable than the iPhone was never going to be an easy job. But giving it two different names is going to make that all the harder.
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