Zeitgeist in Design: Windows Phone 8 and HTC

Zeitgeist in Design: Windows Phone 8 and HTCThe mobile landscape is a tumultuous place, with Android and iOS currently dominating. Very soon, Microsoft will release Windows Phone 8, along with its desktop OS Windows 8 as a new challenge for the market, hoping to gain significant ground against these two giants. This post will examine the latest Windows Phone 8 devices, and the change in philosophy of Windows Phone.

Recently, HTC announced a large push into Windows Phone 8, with the release of two devices, honored with the title of being named as “Signature” Windows Phones. Named the 8X and 8S, the devices themselves are brightly colored, striking the eye with both confidence and verve. HTC worked closely with Microsoft, and took design cues from Windows Phone 8 itself, using the mobile OS as an inspiration, rather than designing hardware and software separately. Thus, the “feel” of these devices is more akin to a symbiosis than an adaptive effort; the hardware is reflective of the software, and the software reflective of the hardware.

I had the opportunity for a question and answer session with Jeff Gordon, Senior Global Online Communications Manager of HTC, on the topic of its recent endeavors into Windows Phone 8.

The 8X and 8S are fresh and compelling devices, thanks in part to the innovation of using Windows Phone 8 itself as inspiration. What challenges are there, from a design standpoint, in creating a device from the ground up to represent a brand-new mobile OS like Windows Phone 8?

An iconic phone design should not just delight you every time you pick up your phone; it should also complement and bring to life the underlying software and experiences that make the phone what it is. In the case of Windows Phone 8, the OS does away with traditional “mobile desktop” paradigms and emphasizes personal information-rich Live Tiles, bright colors, and crisp, bold visual aesthetics. HTC’s challenge with the Windows Phone 8X and 8S was to put a physical shape to this aesthetic, and the result is phones that are themselves bright, bold, and highly personal. From eye-catching colors such as California Blue and Limelight Yellow to the striking rectangular shape — much like a Live Tile — with a shapely curved back that fits comfortably in the hand, the 8X and 8S are like actual physical representations of the OS. We think the result is beautiful and iconic, and we’re thrilled Microsoft agrees, culminating in our mutual decision to call them the signature Windows Phone 8 devices.

Zeitgeist in Design: Windows Phone 8 and HTC

Taking into consideration the mobile nature of Windows 8, with its focus on what people call the “Post-PC Era,” does this new endeavor in Windows Phone 8 perhaps suggest an opportunity for an HTC Windows Tablet in the near future, thus creating a broad family of unified devices?

HTC has closely watched the tablet space and even released three well-received tablets in the HTC Flyer, HTC Jetstream, and EVO View 4G. We also enjoy a fantastic relationship with Microsoft and are excited to see it bring to market the new touch-centric experiences in Windows 8. That said, our current focus is launching the Windows Phone 8X and 8S and making them a success, so we don’t have any other news to share about Windows tablets. Rest assured, when HTC is ready to revisit the tablet space, whether that’s through Windows 8, Android, or something else, you’ll hear about it!

Having earned the title of a “signature” Windows Phone, where does that leave Android in HTC’s vision of the mobile future, especially considering how very different the One Series is compared to the Windows Phone 8X and 8S?

HTC believes strongly in providing customer choice — choice in OS (Android or Windows Phone), choice in form factor (big screens, little screens, physical keyboards, no physical buttons, etc.), choice in colors (bright reds and yellows to matte blacks and sleek whites, as well as everything in between), and so on. We’re incredibly excited about Windows Phone 8 and believe it’s poised for tremendous market growth, while we’re equally dedicated to and invested in Android, too. HTC One is at the forefront of the Android market just as the 8X and 8S lead the charge as the signature Windows Phones. We love providing that kind of choice, and it’s part of what has made HTC so successful to date, so you can absolutely expect us to continue that going forward.

It’s very clear that Microsoft is aiming to break into the market with Windows Phone 8, and to do so with a set of well-designed devices like the 8X and 8S is obviously a great direction in which to go. However, the question now is whether or not there truly is room for a newcomer in the mobile market. Android and iOS are a staunch pair, with such overbearing numbers and followers behind them that it will take a significant effort for Windows Phone 8 to overtake not just in sales, but also in mind-share. RIM and BlackBerry come to mind as a set of products that are not only well-established, but also traditionally high sellers that have found themselves on hard times of late, and Microsoft can certainly count on them to attempt a comeback in early 2013 with fresh ideas.

What we can draw from these new devices is that it’s clear that Microsoft and HTC are attempting to “personalize” the smartphone much more, tailoring the hardware to blend with the OS, in a way that has never really happened in recent memory. Certainly there have been noticeable devices on Android, but for the most part they’ve followed similar formulas: gunmetal grey slabs with a set of various buttons or touch keys. Microsoft and HTC’s latest devices are a challenge to the visual zeitgeist, and a welcome one in my opinion. It has been too long since I’ve lusted for a device purely on its hardware alone. The potency of Windows Phone 8 and these HTC devices lie in their refreshing difference from everything that’s available today, and it’s something everyone on the playing field should take note of.

Images courtesy of HTC