HTC’s New Software Vision Might Actually Make A Little Sense

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HTC’s floundered of late, with a less-than-impressive 2012. Much of that can be attributed to Samsung and Apple, which chomped up even more marketshare last year than they did the year before. Plus, HTC put a lot of focus on Windows Phone 8 last year with the Windows Phone 8X and 8S, which put the Taiwanese handset maker even further behind.

However, HTC’s insistence on packing its phones full of Sense software has never helped. Users awoke their phones to a number of various bubbles and widgets that did nothing but confuse and clutter. But Sense 5 and the new HTC One has a shot at changing all that.

The list of features in Sense 5 is incredibly short: there’s BlinkFeed, which acts as a live feed of all your social network and news content, and there’s Zoe, a Vine-esque app that creates highlight videos from static photos and videos. There is also a revamped navigation menu for SenseTV and some new Music player that pulls in song lyrics directly into the player for you to sing along with.

One of these features will be a significant value add, possibly setting the stage for HTC’s future vision of Sense. The others will be used once or twice by each new HTC One owner. Can you guess which is which?

BlinkFeed does something HTC has never done, which is streamline. Rather than have a social widget, a news widget, a weather widget, and a dozen customized clock faces, BlinkFeed puts all the important stuff in one place. Each piece of content is accompanied with a large photo, Flipboard-style.

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BlinkFeed, in essence, takes what used to be three or four different and separate features of HTC Sense and pulls them all into one, useful feature. BlinkFeed takes up residence right on the home screen, and has over 1,400 content partners including the AP, ESPN, etc. Users can filter by type of content, choosing to only see social updates or only see sports news.

It’s a true hub for smartphone content consumption, better than BlackBerry 10′s Hub, Android and iOS notifications, and potentially even Flipboard itself. It’s the first time that HTC has actually taken a step back and pared down Sense, rather than beefed it up.

But of course, even with this huge stride in the right direction, the company clearly couldn’t help itself when posed with the opportunity to add gimmicky software to the HTC One.

It’s all but expected that a team at Facebook is tirelessly working on a Vine clone to compete with Twitter’s latest social networking product. Vine lets users shoot 6-second, looping videos and subsequently share them across all their social networks — think of it as an Instagram for Video.

However, it’s much less expected that HTC, a Taiwanese smartphone maker who should’ve already learned their lesson when it comes to packing a handset full of sub-par software, would be building a Vine killer. But the unexpected has happened, as HTC has just unveiled a new app for the HTC One called Zoe.

Here’s the deal with Zoe: It has filters, which are not present in Vine, and offers users the chance to record three-second video clips while taking HD still photos. Zoe then looks through your gallery and automatically creates highlight videos, complete with a theme, soundtrack, and filter.

The idea is that, since HTC does all the editing work for you, you might actually use the Zoe app to share content from the HTC One’s Ultrapixel camera. The problem, however, is that sharing content in storybook form, whether it’s a Vine or an edited video or a slideshow of static photos, is a personalized experience.

If I’m going to tell my story through photos and videos, I want to control what clip is used first, which picture is used last, where the crossfade should come in, which transitions I want, and which soundtrack it should have. It’s a creative project — why would I leave it up to a robot? The answer is that I wouldn’t.

Then, there’s a revamped SenseTV interface, which is all well and good but doesn’t bring much to the table. How many HTC users watch TV from SenseTV? In HTC’s defense, the makeover has definitely cleaned up the look of the TV-viewing app. But that doesn’t mean it’ll get more use now.

In the same vein, HTC added a lyric play-type feature to the HTC Music player that works a lot like Shazam’s Player app. Lyrics from the song you’re listening to appear on the screen immediately, going along with the timing of the song. This is yet another needless, useless feature.

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Sure, the peripheral things, like Zoe and the new Media features, are dumb. But HTC finally has a clue in the form of BlinkFeed. If the company can simply resist the need to add software fluff and remain focused on the idea of one, unifying hub for content, HTC might just find itself on the right track once again.