Product launches are a dime a dozen in the course of jobs like ours, and every so often, it can get a little tiring. After all, some might say that if you've seen one modern smartphone, you've seen them all. Where companies like HTC are concerned however, it is no longer simply about the hardware, but the experience. Alongside the launch of two new Android-powered smartphones - the Desire HD and the Desire Z - HTC seeks to bring their product experience to the next level with the launch of their new cloud-based service, aptly dubbed HTCSense.com, also found online with the URL of the same name.
In his keynote speech, Peter Chou, CEO for HTC introduced both the new devices, as well as HTCSense.com, an online service which enables users to manage, control and customize their phones from the PC. With this, HTC aims to not just put a device in your hand, but to also extend the HTC experience from beyond the phone. Interestingly enough, integration with HTCSense.com will only be available for the Desire HD and the Desire Z for now, with no official word on when older devices such as the original Desire will be able to access the service.
John Wang, Chief Marketing Officer for HTC then took the stage to go through the various new features of the refreshed HTC Sense user interface which powers just about every HTC-branded smartphone on the market today.
Users can now share their videos recorded on the Desire HD and Desire Z to be viewed on your HDTV screen thanks to DLNA support. If your TV doesn't support the DLNA standard, HTC can still let you share your video on your TV screen with the help of the optional HTC Media Link wireless DLNA streaming adapter.
The new HTC Sense includes integration with an e-book store powered by Kobo, as well as a new e-reader app. Unfortunately though, HTC were unable to confirm outright that the e-book store would be made available in South East Asia. While bigger e-book stores like Amazon's Kindle store have had trouble coming to the region, the HTC spokespeople we talked to seemed fairly confident that we'll be able to see something positive happen.
One interesting feature is the ability to 'hibernate' the device, allowing for faster start-up. In the hands-on demonstrations after the main press conference, it took an average of five to ten seconds for the Desire HD to start up, after it was powered down. Of course, this only works if the battery isn't removed in between.
Maps and navigation functionality also gets a boost in the revamped Sense UI, dubbed HTC Locations. Incoming calls now show at the bottom of the screen when you're in the middle of navigating, handy for drivers who can now keep one eye on the map while still being able to take that important call via speakerphone. Maps also automatically orient to the direction that users physically face. Better yet, maps can now be pre-cached, allowing for a much smoother navigation experience, especially when panning or zooming in and out. If you're stuck at the traffic light, you can playback your upcoming route in fast-forward mode for a quick refresher on how to get to your destination. While you can download city maps for free, other features like navigation will cost you an as yet undetermined sum.
Part of the new HTCSense.com suite of services include the ability to access old text messages sent to and from your HTC smartphone. According to HTC, your messages are synchronized periodically onto the cloud, letting you access them at any time, so long as you have an internet connection, whether from the phone or from a computer. Your contacts and call history are also saved in a similar manner.
Security is also part of the HTCSense.com experience, with the ability to help you find your misplaced device, simply by clicking a button that causes your device to ring, wherever it might be. If your device is set to silent mode, you can flag the device's location on a map, whether via GPS or WiFi triangulation. If you've left your phone at home, you can set the device to forward calls and messages to your office phone, for example. In the event that your phone's stolen, you can send a message to the device to arrange it's return - a lost and found message that appears on the screen, for example - or even to remotely lock and wipe all personal data from the device. While similar in some ways to Apple's MobileMe service, HTC trumps the competition in the sense that HTCSense.com (no pun intended) is free to use if you own the Desire HD and the Desire Z, while MobileMe users need to shell out US$99 a year to use the service.