A lesson from the HTC HD2: let’s stop generalizing Windows Phones

After spending a very long day with the the HTC HD2 launching in Australia this week, my expectations for what Windows Mobile 6.5 can do and what Windows Phones can be has been completed redefined.

Having actually came from another Windows Phone and despised the experience of using it, if there’s one thing we should all take away from the HD2 is that it is no longer appropriate to generalize all Windows Phones.

Although Microsoft can still be blamed for allowing and encouraging such a wide spectrum of devices ranging in quality to be produced and ultimately grouped under a single brand – previously Windows Mobile phones now Windows Phones – it’s become a much more of an issue for the platform recently as the gap between generic Windows Phones and “premium” Windows Phones has expanded so wide that the “stigma of Windows Mobile” should no longer be an acceptable justification to dismiss high-end devices like the HD2.

Whilst it is still true the experience inside the “HTC bubble” on the HD2 – the integration of HTC software and services into the core Windows Phone experience – is above and beyond the native Windows Mobile experience, it should also be noted that the longstanding notion that “Windows Mobile will show its ugly face quickly” is no longer true for the HD2 thanks to efforts made by Microsoft, HTC and third-party application developers over the past 6-12 months. Granted not every nook and cranny is perfect, but certainly the day-to-day experience on the HD2 is arguably on-par with the Android or even the iPhone.

As I’m sure a variety of Windows Phones will continue to flood the market in the months to come, I would ask people to judge each device on its own merits. It would be cynical to dismiss otherwise great phones on the basis it’s just a Windows Phone.

Update: The HTC HD2 T9193 Next-G version (850/2100mhz) is available now exclusively from Telstra for $829 outright unlocked (until March 30).

56 insightful thoughts

  1. I could not agree with you more, but you and I both know that this isn’t going to be happening anytime soon. People will continue to group all windows phones together, just as they’re going to group all Android phones together, and just as they’ve continued to group all Windows Computers together as “PCs”

  2. Long,
    I too am impressed with HTC’s efforts, considering the tools they are working with. Since 2007 all of my phones have been Windows Mobile based. My last, was an HTC Touch Pro.

    In December I made the jump to the iPhone 3GS. This is a move I contemplated/agonized for over a year before doing so, unsure if the cons would outweigh the pros. After using this phone for a month, I am amazed at how long I put up with Windows Mobile. I’m amazed at all of the things I believed were technology limitations and not Windows Mobile/hardware provider limitations.

    For instance, I took it for granted that it takes roughly 60 – 90 seconds to connect to GPS satellites after opening any GPS enabled application. “It is a phone after all…” I took it for granted that applications should lag and animations be imperfect. I took it for granted that the OS would occasionally hang. I took it for granted that the battery life would be non-existent. (My last HTC phone routinely died at 1 PM)

    After a little over a month using an iPhone, I am shocked…literally…that Microsoft and HTC are this far behind. I blame Microsoft more than HTC…I think HTC is capable of delivering hardware…I think their devices are crippled by an OS desperately in need of an overhaul (a complete one…screw legacy support if you have to…it’s time to take this seriously)

    The biggest tell in all of this is the simple fact that the iPhone has better Exchange integration than Windows Mobile. It’s easier to setup, easier to search, etc etc. In fact, some features Microsoft has *yet* to include. Like searching the GAL for contacts or searching the server for old mail messages. Shouldn’t Microsoft be the leader in this? Shouldn’t their Exchange integration be second to none?

    I’m just incredulous.

    Clif

    1. Clifton: Actually, at least a few of those are issues specific to the Touch Pro, and one is probably an issue with whatever build of WM you’re using.

      GPS lag/lock time: Known issue with the touch pro. On my TyTN also running WM6, using an external GPS, there is zero lag and lock time.

      Lag/animations: Another known issue with the touch pro (and quite a few HTC phones). The processor HTC chose for these phones is combination CPU/GPU, but they have to pay extra to unlock the hardware acceleration features — and chose not to. The result? Some phones feel nice and snappy, while others are dog slow.

      Battery life: On the build of WM6.5.1 I was using for a couple months, my battery would often get low halfway through the work day and I’d have to plug it in and have it charge. I just upgraded to a build of 6.5.3 about a week ago, however, and battery life has seriously improved. Now, when I go to bed, my phone still has around 50% of its battery left.

      You may have a point with exchange. I don’t use it, so….

      At the very least, you shouldn’t just up and assume that all the problems you saw were with WinMo. Several of those that are, can be fixed by using a different build than the ones HTC ships.

    2. Certainly some of my issues were Touch Pro specific issues, but I’ve used many variations of Windows phones. I’ve seen basically the same gamut of issues across the board. Some do better here and there, but I’ve yet to see a phone that handles all of these things well. (I’m surprised about your 6.5.3 battery life improvement…I saw no improvement running that build)

      While I can certainly admire the gargantuan task HTC has taken on with their Sense UI, it seems silly that it should be necessary. Engadget compares the HD2 to high end car modifications. They said at the end of the day it is inescapable that HTC’s beautiful work is built on a flawed product.

    3. Clif, the Exchange integration features you describe have been there since WM 6.1. You have always been able to search the GAL for contacts by clicking “Company Directory” and you can go to Tools > Search Server, which gives you many options for finding emails or other items.

      Others have commented on some of your hardware issues, but I wanted to clear up the Exchange thing. Either way, I think we can all agree that the next version of Windows Mobile has a ways to go to get past some of the perceptions and actualities when compared to the iPhone.

    4. Dave,
      That’s very interesting. I’m surprised I didn’t stumble upon the feature in 3 years. Thanks for the correction.

      Perhaps the iPhone’s main advantage then is how easily it exposes those features.

  3. Totally agree, I’ve been saying this to anyone that will listen since I got my HD2 about a month ago. It is *almost* on a par with iPhone. The fact that it doesn’t have a media player as good as the iPod is what lets it down and is why I would still recommend the iPhone to most people – in other words its crying out for Zune integration.

    -Jamie

    1. @Jamie – you do realise that you could have installed one (or more) of the “hundreds” of different media players available for Windows Phones?

    2. Glen,
      Sure, but let’s not pretend that the iPod is only a media player. Media players existed before the iPod but it took over the market by providing (amongst other things) a music store, great hardware matched with great software (both on and off the device), innovative user experience, an ecosystem to support 3rd party peripherals & last of all, brilliant marketing.

      Perhaps in my comment above I should have said “overall media experience” rather than “media player”. Thank you for prompting me to clarify.

      -Jamie

  4. The HD2 is a beautiful device, combined with WM7 my girlfriend might get my iPhone. There’s massive scope though on the subject of developing a “trustworthy” Market place. Microsoft need to develop a market place for apps that’s easy to develop for, that favours innovation in development and critically that avoids the Andriod app store issue of phishing apps even getting into the store.

    Developers^3 + trust + innovation + usability = win

  5. Actually the generalization of Windows phones pales in comparison to the generalization of HTC phones that just work. Am I the only one who thinks it’s odd that for years, manufacturers have been producing rubbish incantations of both windows and linux phones and then along comes HTC with slam-dunk-hands-down winners in both categories? It’s time they fess up and admit they are using technology stolen from beyond the star gate.

    1. @Rob – HTC have been making most of all those various Windows Phones for years… Dopods, iPAQs, iMates, etc etc… they only realised a few years back they could do their own HTC brand and make more of a name for themselves… and thus purchasing Dopod for the Asian retail chain was just the beginning of their so-called “quick” rise to fame.

  6. The way I see this is that preception is as important as reality, and mindshare as important as marketshare. Each can help achieve the other end. Take two classic examples, Vista and Gmail. Vista, a sold OS, was consistently marred by bad press, which led to the perception that it was a terrible OS. This seriously hurt Microsoft. Gmail is #3 in terms of email users, but certainly has the mindshare among more technical users.

    The problem with Windows Phones, is Microsoft’s reliance on its partners. Apple does a great job in controlling the iphone expirience from begginning to end, with the exception at at&t’s network. In my opinion Microsoft needs to start making its own hardware or at least be more like Google, in having a much more intimate relationship with its partners. Microsoft should have all Windows Phones from its partners to meet a certain bar of quality, or not allow the phones to be sold. Google and Apple, even with the initial flaws in their 1.0 were given a pass due to their consistency in delivering innovate products or having great user expiriences. If Microsoft can do the same consistently with less reliance on its partners and can start to make gains in a more positive perception of the company and in mindshare, to get its Windows Phones back in the mobile wars.

    1. I’ve always been a big fan, it was the easiest platform to develop on by far and it’s miles ahead of say, iPhone, in that it support multitasking. So no, you are not alone.

      I left because lost of the innovative developers went to iPhone, where the money was.

    1. I would agree without Sense it’s a very generic phone, but that’s what makes the HD2 so great is because it includes Sense and there’s no reason not to use it – it’s fast and well designed.

  7. I probably would agree that a highly integrated phone makes for a better Windows Phone experience… after all that’s what the iPhone is: a highly integrated device.

    The problem I have with a third party integration such as the one found in the HD2 is that you can expect updates for the next 12 months. After that you can bin your phone because the manufacturer will have lost interest and moved on.

    I have owned HTCs in the past and getting firmware/ OS updates has always been a pain.

    So yeah, great and shiny out of the box… not so great a few months down the track.

    1. @Tom – the problem with your “argument” is that Apple have released three phones in (basically) three years… and although the OS can be upgraded, there are more and more parts of it that no longer work on the older phones i.e. compass, GPS, etc. With each new iPhone, Apple is also fragmenting its own market – as programmers for the iPhone will admit to.

    2. @Glen,

      Yet I can still get an OS update for my iPhone 3G which is nearly 2 years old… yes, it won’t support the new hardware features. But none the less, I get all the other features such as phone wide search, latest Safari Mobile, cut and paste, Exchange support etc.

      All the while I never even got one update for the piece of crap iMate JasJam (re-batched HTC) I owned before that. Don’t get me wrong. I loved that WinMo phone when it was first released back in 2006. Then Microsoft released a WinMo update… I waited, I waited, I waited… no update for my WinMo phone 9 months down the track. I then went back to Telstra to ask about it.

      Their answer was: “These phone had such a high return rate due to hardware faults we stopped selling it a long time ago.” I guess that would explain why the fold out keyboard died after 6 months… the rotational sensor in they keyboard died after 9 months and the screen died after 12… but that a whole different story.

      BTW, I am not a fan boy but I am a consumer who spends their own hard earned money on a phone. And it just happens that after a long string of bad experiences with Nokia and WinMo phone I simply had none of them with the iPhone (note, I did have connection issues with the iPhone 3G. But they all seemed to be network related).

    3. As if they had their own agenda about selling hardware and become reluctant to give those free Windows OS update to their old devices.

      High end Windows phone devices seems to go all out on the hardware already. Snapdragon, camera, GPS, sensors, capacitive screen. Unless there’s another revolutionary feature coming out, can’t imagine anything more than the obvious (more memory, more megapixel).

      By the way, a little off topic. How is the OS update for HTC’s Android devices ?

  8. Wow, I don’t agree with this at all. Microsoft sat by and did nothing for years and let others take the lead in the mobile space. Windows Mobile sucks, plain and simple.

  9. Great thoughts, and glad to see HTC is still innovating on the WM platform. I’ve argued for a while that there’s more power in Windows Mobile than most people see; Kinoma running on my WM Standard phone convinced me of that! Hopefully WM7 will give it the refresh that Windows 7 gave the PC brand and help people see that there’s more to it than they thought. And hopefully WM7 will really deliver a lot of great features to back that up!

  10. the review of htc hd2 from gizmodo that you refer to, stated that WM 6.5 cannot be used without stylus.

    that is not true. i use htc touch pro 2 actively for months including contacts, docs etc. i have never used the stylus even once.

    the blogosphere is biased against windows mobile and is overwhelmed by the iphone bubble. i am glad that msft can stand firm and take the time and thought to develop phone software that is consistent with sound business.

    1. Herd mentality, dude, herd mentality. lol

      Google and Apple are the defacto darlings for all things tech. I laugh when even non-related products get compared to iStuff. Pretty amuzing.

      Personally I don’t find WM 6.5 to be all that bad. I love the screen of HD2, but I’m holding out to see what the world is going to reveal at WMC. Hoping for some surprises.

    2. Herd mentality is certainly a very influential factor in how the iPhone is perceived.

      But it isn’t herd mentality that left me so frustrated with Windows Mobile and the lack of significant improvement. It isn’t a herd mentality that is driving my satisfaction with the iPhone. It’s just the best phone I’ve ever used or owned.

  11. This looks sexy. I am really getting sick of my iPhone. Enjoyed it for about three months then bleh. Exchange is one thing handled like crap on that phone. I think most of the appeal comes from the reality distortion field. The biggest pro was that it was a lot faster than my old sluggish Pantech Duo.

    Why is Winmo 7 taking so long to get out the door? I hope some journalist digs up the real story behind the Winmo 5-6-7 screwup, it seems like it was 10x worse than Vista. This is a phone OS for heaven’s sake. The Winmo division must have been hiring complete hacks for years.

    1. The real screwup is that Microsoft sees itself as a Software company not a hardware company. Apple call the selves a Hardware company… Google… well who know what’s going on in their heads.

      You’d think that Microsoft learned from their Xbox experience and would start making their own phone. They tried a media player with the Zune… supposedly a neat device. (No idea… they don’t sell them in the country I live in.) Only when you control the hardware and software can you make sure it’s a tide integration.

  12. Does anyone actually believe that they are making these phones especially for Win Mobile or Android.

    The hardware are all standard platforms put together from standard chipsets by Qualcomm or TI, so either Snapdragon or OMAP (both ARM based). They could just as easily run any of the OS’s designed for these platforms, so Win Mobile, Android, Symbian, etc.

    HTC is basically taking those parts and putting them in a nice case. Don’t get so excited about the hardware, it is basically the same as their Android products.

  13. So thats great its only taken them 7 years to produce a device which runs smoothly and effectively out of the box and theyve done that by completely burying the Windows Mobile experience, congrats. Im sure its a proud day for Windows Phones that their lead hardware manufactuer has had to develop a complete UI overlay.

    You will have to forgive the cynacism, after having a love hate relationship with these devices for seven years I find the advancements in the hardware to be impressive, not in the software. That being said I still hope that WinMo 7 delivers. It is also interesting that engadget reports today that there may be 2 versions of WinMo. This would be a step in the right direction one version (business) will allow for oems to still overlay their own UI, the other, being the media version OOTB experience will be dictated by MS. Wouldnt it be nice to see a true Windows Mobile out of the box experience that just works, kind of like the ZuneHD?

    Now that on the HD’s hardware would be something to marvel.

  14. in canada lg renamed & assigned a different model number the the expo. great looking phone for people not pateint enough to use touch it has a sliding keyboard. but they arent selling the projecter here so that 1ghz processor has gone to waste

  15. I don’t know but more phone SKUs? I have trouble to find out which phone actually preloads with Microsoft Office Mobile… really not sure how to deal all that mess.

  16. “android or EVEN the iPhone”?
    I hate to be picking out your sentences, but who says iPhone is better than Android?
    My htc dream Android is far more pleasant and superior to any of the iPhones I held in my hand.

    Regarding Windows mobile – I think those of us who ever touched one a few years ago, will never get over the “stigma”, unless they change the branding. Something with “7” in it might do the trick for me (no – seriously).

  17. Does anyone know for certain whether Windows Mobile 7 will run on the HD2?
    If I can get a definitive YES to this question I will ditch my 2 month old iPhone for one of these in a flash.

    The iPhone may be great toy for games and music, but as a productive business device I am shocked at just how bad it is. It’s a purchase I very much regret.

    1. As far as I have read, no one knows when WM7 is coming out or what the specs will be or what phones will run it. (But correct me if I’m wrong.)

      Could you detail why you are unable to use the iPhone as a “productive business device”? I use mine as such all the time…I have not found anything my Windows Mobile phone could do that this phone can’t, besides multi-tasking. (Ironically, I find I’m actually able to multi-task better on this phone than I was in Windows Mobile.)

    2. It would be unrealistic to think WinMo 7 wouldnt run on the snapdragon platform.

      The real question is whether HTC will do the right thing and give you an official WinMo 7 Rom or whether your stuck waiting for a cook at Xda-developers to brew one up.

      In any case, hold on to your iphone till mid next month, the MWC will reveal more but id feel pretty confident one way or another youll have seven on it.

    3. @ Zig

      I think more than HTC, it would be Microsoft that is the driver for WM7 coming to the HD2 (i.e. I expect them to bend over backwards to convince HTC to release a WM7 ROM for the HD2).

      My reason for saying that — by the time WM7 comes out, the HD2 will probably present the best opportunity for MS to gain a quick installed base, mindshare, maybe even some loyalty (zune style) for WM7. People are unlikely to line-up like crazy for a WM7 device, so this might be the best avenue for MS to get the word out there, when they do finally release.

      Of course, that’s all just conjecture. God knows what the powers that be actually have in store for us. I know *I’m* lining up outside my friendly neighborhood T-Mobile store the day the HD2 releases in the US.

  18. What i don’t like about the HTC phones in general: They use great hardware, but they don’t support it quite right. Take a look at the Touch Diamond 1 when it was new. There was a capacitive filed on the bottom and a 3d chip inside. Both never were really used because they stopped any development for this device after the release (except for two or three bugfixing updates). Updated version of TouchFlo3D, Opera or other apps never found their way into this device (although the xda-devs did this work).

    Now i own a Palm Pre, for me it’s the best smartphone i ever used although it’s not perfect. But what i really like about it is the fact that there updates improving the device and its functionality every month. I would love seeing HTC treating its devices like that and keeping them up to date longer than just a few weeks.

    1. i have an xperia(has a 3d chip aswell) same issue i thought i found a 3d driver but i couldnt find it again & the tech demo games require it.

      right now the expo/iq is the only 1ghz winmo phone in the NA market.

  19. i moved from iphone 3GS to HD2 and all what i can say is that this phone is amazing of course few things still missing but by far this is the best phone i have ever used in my life (till now at least). the iphone is a wonderful piece of technology but its not for everyone its has a lot and i say a “lot” of limitations and they r all related to the way apple think how we should do things for example u can’t reorganize ur picture or do anything to them without connecting ur iphone to ur pc and it still needs a cable “try resco on ur winmo and u will see how akward the iphone is” same goes to music, videos and almost everything another thing that was really annoying in the iphone was how it handles emails, u cannot attach anything while u r typing an email u have to pick what u want to attach first then move to ur email client and then u can’t change that if u want to attach a different image for an example u have to repeat the whole process! i think this not the proper way for doing such things for me sense UI does make more sense …I don’t want to start HD2 vs iphone here but what i wanted to say is that if the HD2 got a good support from HTC and if they start to build on it not just bring another new phone next year i think this phone has all the potential to be as big as the iphone…except they don’t have steve jobs on board:)

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