Ina Fried

Recent Posts by Ina Fried

HTC Aims to Make Sense of Android With Improved Software

Despite all that it has done to build its brand over the past few years, Taiwan’s HTC is keenly aware that most Android phones look pretty similar when positioned next to one another on the shelves of a carrier’s retail store.

Chief Product Officer Kouji Kodera likens it a bit to trying to make your flat-screen television stand out from all of the others. Unlike a television, though, Kodera said that phone makers do have a way to make an impression.

That’s where the company’s Sense software comes in. With its latest HTC Sense software, the company is trying to do a mix of both things that get noticed in the store, as well as the little touches that give their products a lasting appeal.

In the first category would be changes HTC has made to make the home screen more interactive as well as additional options for the screen that show up when a phone is locked. With the new version of Sense, users have several home screen options–including one that makes it easier to jump to a task, such as mail or the camera–and another option that displays various pictures from the owner’s photo library. Kodera, a frequent traveler, said his favorite lock screen option is one that shows the weather wherever he is that day.

“Since I travel all over the place, weather is more interesting to me than anything else,” Kodera told Mobilized.

In the category of nice but less obvious touches are features such as the fact one can turn over a ringing HTC phone to silence it or the fact that the phones use light sensors to ring louder when in a pocket or purse and then get quieter once someone has taken action, such as grabbing the phone.

The efforts appear to be paying dividends. HTC recently passed both Nokia and Research In Motion in market capitalization, and recent sales are more than double what they were a year ago.

While some of the tweaks to Android are subtle, others are far more noticeable. One area of particular focus in the latest update to HTC Sense is the company’s camera software. In the past, HTC focused on making photos easier to share, whether via email or to social networks. Now it wants to make the photos being shared the ones that the photographer aimed to take. The new software aims to reduce the amount of time it takes for the picture to be taken–an issue known as shutter lag.

“With that lag you have, you usually miss the shot when you have things that are moving,” Kodera said. Those things, he noted are often the kids or pets people are trying to capture. “We are trying to make it easier for people to make better quality pictures.”

The new software is due to show up in the Sprint HTC Evo 3D as well as other new phones this year. HTC is planning a press event on Tuesday in London to show off its latest gear.

Perhaps the biggest customization the company has done is with the Cha Cha and Salsa phones, shown off at Mobile World Congress, that offer dedicated controls for Facebook.

The phones will show up first in Europe, though AT&T has said it will have devices with similar features, if not those exact models, in the second half of this year.

Another effort to target a niche is the company’s Wildfire S, a 3.2-inch Android device. Using a smaller screen makes the device cheaper, but also gives the company a chance to attract a greater percentage of women. The typical HTC phone attracts 70 percent male buyers, but with Wildfire S, Kodera said the goal is to make it more like 50-50.

Women, Kodera said, are “one of the markets we see we have an opportunity to develop.”

The company is also trying to expand its sales in emerging markets, though if the market is headed to $100 Android phones, HTC probably won’t be the first one there.

“We’ll be a little higher than the rock bottom of the market but we will slowly go into that market as it grows,” Kodera said.