Rory Cellan-Jones

Can HTC's Hero be a smartphone winner?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 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?

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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.

HTC Hero phoneThe 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.


  • Comment number 1.

    Sounds like a fantastic device. But just wait until the networks get their hands on it and hobble the software with operator-branding.

    One of the immense sucesses of the iPhone was to not allow networks to put their own stamp on the device - providing the customer with a consistent user interface and understanding of how the phone works. Networks should differentiate themselves through services instead.

  • Comment number 2.

    I must say, I was thoroughly impressed with the video review and blog content, which seems to read like an Apple advertising pitch rather than a review of a newly-released phone.

    Even the HTC employee seems to be visually taken aback by the reviewer's aggressive pro-Apple questioning.

    Could we please have some unbiased reporting in the future for those of us who really couldn't care less about the iPhone?

  • Comment number 3.

    I think the point is that the iPhone is currently the phone to beat in terms of usability. Yes, the Nokia 5800 may have outsold it everywhere but in the US, but its mindshare is huge.

    I like the look of this phone in terms of the UI. I'm less keen on the curved bottom. Promising though - if they can customise Android like this I think we have some seriously good phones to look forward to.

    Now if only Nokia can stop pretending it's 2006... :)

  • Comment number 4.

    The two best features of the Hero are the flash support, so no problems with YouTube etc and, finally, a HTC device with a regular 3.5mm headphone socket. It looks like Orange is the carrier for the UK so hopefully they won't hobble it too much (and if they do, that it is fairly easy to strip out their customisations)

  • Comment number 5.

    Does your average non techy user really want to customise their phone to the nth degree? I suspect most people simply want their phone to have sensible defaults and "just work". Infinite tweaking seems to be more of a geek trait (and I should know!)

  • Comment number 6.

    I think HTC's biggest weakness so far is letting the operators butcher and rename their phones. My Universal (02 XDA Exec) came with all of the pre installed tripe that o2 put on it and it ran awfully. I was ready to sling it until i found, they had stripped out versions of the software which made the thing run ultra fast. Now I am happy as larry with it.

    This phone looks great, and I think that Android could potentially be hugely popular due to the fact that it entirely encourages innovation.

    On a side note rory, it would be great to have some blogs on the internet situation in China. From yesterday it seems that the government have started blocking google, it is still unclear but it seems that they are using pornography as an excuse. However it is more than likely that it is because of the power and influence google is gaining in China. Would love to hear your views on it.

  • Comment number 7.

    A few typos there rory...

    Very much so looking forward to my contract running out, so I can get this phone! It looks genuinely easy to use, and yet with all the bells and whistles you could possibly want! If anyone wants to find out, go to the HTC website, there is a very good downloadable advert/sample screens for it. Shows many more of the features of this phone.

  • Comment number 8.

    It looks good, the interface will also be on future windows mobile devices from HTC as well, replacing TouchFlo.

  • Comment number 9.

    I have a 5800 and previously had the iPhone 3G. The iPhone was very nice to use but had too many restrictions and was missing funcuality. The 5800 is the opposite, annoying to use but with a lot more actual funcuality.

    What needs to be made is a phone which combines to two, and this may be it. The Palm Pre also looks very promising, but I have no idea when it will be out in the UK and what the pricing will be like, and you can't even ship them from the US because they run on EVDO.

  • Comment number 10.

    For the first half of that interview, I thought the interviewer was trying to mention the iPhone as many times as possible, for some sort of bet. While I congratulate him for finishing the interview in a competent fashion, I do find it amusing that whoever reviewed TouchFLO 3D last year for the BBC was wary of it, and yet HTC Sense (the user interface) gets a great thumbs up, despite the fact that it is clearly based on TouchFLO 3D, with the only major changes being a bit of reskinning, increased customisability and more widgety things.
    Actually, critically analysing the interview, I'm disappointed that the interviewer didn't ask why the Hero is better than the previous HTC devices that the BBC has covered. I can understand that technology does need dumbing-down to avoid alienating the audience, but that doesn't mean that the questions asked should be any less well-researched and thorough - this is at least the 6th phone with very similar hardware that HTC has released in the last year.
    @ringsting-iom: The reason O2 and T-Mobile always rebrand HTC's devices is because they've been selling HTC's devices for many years, whereas HTC has been developing its own brand since 2006. That rebranding problem is the final barrier that HTC needs to crack before it becomes a mainstream phone manufacturer - notice how they're leaning towards Vodafone and Orange now, to avoid O2 and T-Mobile.
    @U14047571: I completely agree with you, but this is the BBC - they seem to be responsible for at least half of the iPhone-related hype in the UK...

  • Comment number 11.

    Everything evolves around the iphone with you lot! There are loads of really amazing phones with new and better features, compatibility and hardware that never even get a single mention here. But no, with the BBC it has to be the iPhone on a pedestal everytime with only the allowance of one contender to challenge their beloved iPhones.

    Free marketing anyone?
    Apple must be laughing their way to the bank with BBC!

  • Comment number 12.

    What the heck was that?

    World weary, complete lack of knowledge - complete lack of understanding...

    "and yet anooooooother contender **SnoreNOW**".

    To be honest, like an old woman in a Ferrari... "If you cant drive it, you shouldnt have it!". Leave it for those of us who know what we're talking about - if you want FisherPrice, you stick with Apple idiot-proof stuff... PLEASE.

  • Comment number 13.

    I love HTC's - had them ever since the BlueAngle (SPV M2000) a few years ago...

    Unfortunately, with the "bleeding edge" HTC manufacturer going after the Iphone market (see, I spit on your swanky branding! :) ), what this does mean is that we'll get a lot of "updated" phone cos the "colors different" or it has a "teflon coating"...

    Who gives a fig - it's still got 528 mhz chip, so-so RAM/ROM.

    Dont get me wrong - it's a really good phone and I really want one - but can stop chasing the "Oooh, it's made out of translucent yogurt pots" - (iCac), and actually DO SOMETHING with the hardware?!

    Faster chip?
    Inbuilt projector?

    Now THAT would be cool! Please HTC, dont lose focus and be drawn to the Dark Side...

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 15.

    Interesting that Orange have stuck with HTC Hero and avoided 'T-mobile Daft'

  • Comment number 16.

    Wish they done this phone in a gold colour!

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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