It's been a tough year for HTC. OK, it's been a tough few years for the Taiwanese manufacturer. It was sort of one step forward, two steps back for the things on the smartphone front this year, with the HTC One M9 mostly a nonstarter, failing to improve things on the camera front and continuing to lose mind share, if not market even more market share in the U.S. Stock price continued to trend down throughout the year but ended 2015 close to July levels.
But HTC's portfolio wasn't entirely devoid of life. While the high-end M9 failed to impress, the Desire line chugged right along, like the little polycarbonate phone that could. The HTC RE Camera remains one of our favorite little shooters, if you're able to get it at a good price. And then there's the HTC Vive, which may well become the leading name (if not a household name) in nerd-friendly virtual reality.
So we've got a lot to look forward to in 2016. Here in no apparent order is what we'd like to see from HTC over the next 12 months.
1. Revive the RE Camera
The original RE Camera was somewhat of a sleeper hit. It's of the same ilk as GoPro, but the two are very different devices, meant for different purposes. If you want an easy way to snap pics on the go, it doesn't get much easier than a pistol-grip-style shooter with a shutter button. The 16-megapixel Sony sensor is plenty capable, and transferring pictures from the camera is about as easy as it can get given the nature of this beast. It is, simply, a fun way to shoot pictures and video.
If we had one area that desperately needs a little attention, it'd be the waterproofing. I killed a couple of REs by not strictly adhering to the 1-meter underwater limit. (Or, rather, my kids killed them.) That becomes an expensive mistake when all you're talking about is no more than 10 feet in the deep end of a recreational pool.
All in all, the RE Camera is a fun little product, even getting some end-cap love at my local Best Buy. It deserves even more marketing love.
2. Reboot the Sense UI
It's been a couple years now since the last major revamp to HTC's smartphone user interface, so we're sort of due for an overhaul of Sense anyway. But the real question is what we might see when the M10 (and I'm assuming that's the name) rolls around sometime in the early months of the year.
The new adaptive widget on the M9 didn't really do it for us, and the Sense quick settings just look dated at this point. And while it was intriguing to see the HTC One A9 use a mix of Sense and stock Android in that department, we've got to imagine that the UI/UX folks have been hard at work on something new, right? Or will Google's mix of function and form in Marshmallow — which isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination — win out?
And will we see Zoe rise from the ashes? HTC was one of the first to incorporate animated-gif-like videos with Sense on the M7. But Zoe quickly morphed from determined feature to an afterthought, only to see nearly the exact same thing heralded by Apple in the latest version of iOS. Zoe was a squandered opportunity, for sure.
3. Keep pushing VR
Get in the car and go find yourself to a demo of HTC Vive. Even if you don't currently care about virtual reality, have no desire to live in a virtual world at any time, and couldn't care less about strapping a goofy looking visor to your face, go try HTC Vive. It's that good.
While experiences like Samsung's Gear VR and Google Cardboard offer more affordable (and available) virtual reality experiences, Vive (which is powered by Steam VR) is a whole 'nother world, both literally and figuratively. It's been some 10 months since I had my demo with a prototype, and I still can't believe I thought a dropped virtual frying pan was going to hurt my foot. Or that I could fall off the edge of the virtual sunken pirate ship. Your brain will remember the world you came from, but it also won't forget the one you just unlocked.
This is going to be fun, especially with HTC teasing some major breakthrough for CES. (If I had to guess, I'd think they figured out how to untether the visor from the computer and push things wirelessly.)
4. Own your design, for better or worse
HTC long has been one of the top designers in the smartphone game. OK, so maybe that didn't always translate to profitable design, but you'd have a hard time arguing that an HTC phone was just another slab like so many we see from other manufacturers. Then came the HTC One A9, which, yes, looks more than a bit like the current iPhone. But as I argued back in October, HTC needs to own its design, never mind the peanut gallery. Any sort of explanation other than "We've got the best designers in the world, and this phone shows it once again" is a waste of ink and a misuse of message. As I wrote at the time:
Even if the A9 was a completely organic evolution of the company's design ethos — and it's easy enough to make that argument — what percentage of folks out there do you think would recognize that by sight? How does this look like anything other than the underdog standing on its tip-toes and desperately trying to catch the champ with a glancing blow while screaming "Look at meeeeee!!!" at the top of its lungs?
Recent struggles aside, HTC's just too good at making smartphones, with too good a pedigree, to not offer a full-throated defense of its products. Maybe that means saying less, and then getting back to work. "Quietly Brilliant" may no longer be the official tag line, but that doesn't mean it's still not a good idea.
5. Nail the camera experience
HTC's Achilles' Heel the past couple years has been camera. We saw it start to turn that corner with the A9. With 2016's flagship — and particularly if it's going to continue with hardware design that's so close to Apple's — HTC has to nail the camera. Not just be pretty good — there are plenty of "pretty good" cameras out there these days. HTC has to, finally, nail it.
Samsung's nailed it. LG has nailed it. Even Nexus phones are good enough. HTC needs its camera to be better than "good enough." As smartphones edge ever closer to a state of parity, something has to stand out. Or, rather, something needs to not stand out as a fatal flaw. And that generally means either battery life, or camera. HTC's had the former under control for a while. Now it needs to execute on the latter.
Anything else you think HTC absolutely has to do in 2016? Let's hear it in the comments.