Why The HTC One's Camera Might Make It The Worst-Selling HTC Phone Ever

HTC held a big event in New York City this morning, and the phone at the centre of the launch — the HTC One — is nothing short of the bravest thing I have seen HTC do in years. So brave in fact that its gamble might not pay off, and it might be relegated into the realm of HTC failures. Here's why.

The HTC One is a fabulous looking phone with all the specs a new flagship should have in 2013, except for the camera. While other devices like the Sony Xperia Z are launching with 13-megapixel cameras and such, HTC is launching its new flagship with a 4-megapixel camera.

That's right: Four.

The reason for this minimalistic megapixel-madness is a new technology that HTC is using on its cameras called "ultrapixel", and it's HTC's attempt to kill the megapixel-wars dead on smartphones.

Basically, an ultrapixel sensor is HTC's way of saying that it's able to capture more light from a smaller sensor because of the size of its pixels, which are bigger than those offered by competitors. You can read more about it over here. The problem comes when you need to explain that to someone who sees a 4-megapixel camera on a spec sheet when comparing the HTC One to other phones.

If an ordinary consumer saw three phones — the Nokia Lumia 920 with its 8.7-megapixel camera, the iPhone 5 with its 8-megapixel camera and the HTC One with its 4-megapixel camera — they're going to give points to the Lumia for having the highest number of megapixels. Ordinary consumers probably don't have the foggiest idea what that means, but it has less of the megapixels when others have twice as many, so surely it's only half as good?

Worse still, as soon as someone says the word "ultrapixel", ordinary consumer will think it's just an obnoxious buzzword designed to trick people into buying phones, which will likely serve to turn them off even more.

When digital camera manufacturers decided to end the megapixel wars, it made a lot of sense. HTC is making a play to end the megapixel wars in smartphones, but I don't think it has the nuclear deterrent — so to speak — when it comes to ultrapixel technology.

I'm really not sure how HTC is going to combat the like-for-like comparisons of its camera to other camera phones currently on the market. Hopefully their marketing wizards have something up their sleeves.


Comments

    My basic assumption is that a camera isn't the reason most people buy a phone, it's a 'nice-to-have' addition, but maybe that's just me.

      i'm actually interested in this- there's an old cliche about the best camera being the one you have on you, and I both like taking photo's and always carry my phone. replacing point- and- shoot cameras with smartphones is a pretty logical step I reckon.

      plus I'm sorta rooting for HTC here, I have love the one I have ATM and more competition is a good thing, nobody wants the words Samsung and Android to become interchangeable...

      Last edited 20/02/13 4:56 pm

      I would disagree. Being connected through thinks like sharing photos of kids, life, food is key to many people nowdays as we become more social.

      I will reserve judgement till i see some independent photos taken with this camera.

        If that's the case, I think you live in a fairly closed world which distorts your objectivity. I don't know anyone who does that krap. None of my friends, none of my work colleagues, none of my neighbours. I doubt that too many of them could even tell me how many megapixels their phone is packing but they will all have an opinion on the quality of the shots it takes. They all just get whatever their telco offers them when their contract is up for renewal or an iPhone.

        Last edited 21/02/13 9:15 am

          I think your being a bit harsh to @patrick. The camera is an important feature to some people. For me and my wife it is. We have a daughter that's almost one and having a good camera on a phone allows us to capture lots of great moments with her. My wife also imports kids clothing and sells it and uses her phone camera to take shots of the products to put online. We have decent point and shoot cameras but they are either never with us or never charged. While our phone is always close by.

          we also have hundreds of shared photos of our daughter on Facebook.

            Exactly! If you are just going to put them up on-line, then any old camera will do. Even a 2Mp camera will take shots that are way too big for a web page.

              But if we ever look at them ourselves a 2MP picture looks crap. If we ever want to print them they are crap. if we ever need to zoom/crop they are crap. a higher MP helps in that aspect. Also a 2MP image is only a little over half the res of my monitor so if I ever viewed it full screen it would look crap.

                I've printed photos taken with a 2Mp phone camera and they looked fine. I alway trim/crop photos before I do anything with them and, again, 2Mp phone photos have served me well in that regard, too. Remember, 2Mp is higher resolution than HD and more than double the resolution of SD TV and SD TV looks great.

                  This is a late reply. My Lumia 920 is in being fixed. I am using a Lumia 620 as a spare with a 5MP camera. I have tried taking photos of my daughter and they are ether blurry or grainy, the video I tried taking of her laughing while waggling a chip is all dark and hard to see. So you may be happy with your crappy camera but for me I demand a lot more as this is stuff I want to keep forever and that moment I just mentioned there I effectively have missed preserving that.

                  The point @patrick made is very true. I for one believe the camera is one of the most important features after its ability to make and receive quality phone calls.

                  Last edited 28/02/13 12:53 am

          I agree, this is a bit harsh.

          I didn't say megapixels where important, I only care about picture quality. I was only saying that to most people now a days having a camera on the phone was an important feature.

          I get pictures of my kid sent to me while I'm at work, pictures from my parents, friends overseas. I enjoy receiving them all and feel that this is just increasingly a part of life.

          I think you live in a fairly closed world which distorts your objectivity

          Hahah, pot meet kettle.

            Clearly you missed the point of me mentioning two groups, the make-up of which I have little or no control over. i.e. What my friends do will definitely echo my own preferences but my work colleagues and neighbours are a diverse bunch, representing a broad range of age groups, interests, experience, etc., many of whom I don't even particularly like or get along with.

              You're basically saying "I don't do it, my friends don't do it, my colleagues don't do it - therefore no-one else could possibly do it."
              See, that's you, in your closed world, talking with your distorted objectivity - you think your world represents the whole market - it doesn't.

              Last edited 21/02/13 1:53 pm

                my world and motormouth must be different... most people around me knows how many megapixel in their phones....

                No, that's not what I said at all. After all, the guy I responded to does it. I was simply suggesting that behaviour was far less common than he thinks it is.

                  lol this guy do not like it when someone criticises his opinions. Be a bigger man, just admitted your opinion was wrong.

                  Last edited 27/02/13 1:28 pm

                  Opinons cannot be wrong, they are interpretations of facts. e.g. My opinion that you are an idiot is not wrong but that doesn't mean that you really are an idiot, it simply shows that the standards by which I judge are different.

      While it isn't a main reason to buy a 'smartphone', the camera is more often than not one of the most shown off aspects of a phone by its user, only feature more flaunted would be the screen. With that said, I'm willing to bet that of all the various tech specs to a phone, the two most known by the majority of average consumers are screen size and camera pixel amount without fail. So, take that however you want with regards to the article.

      Nope I use mine all the time either to snap cool things or capture serial numbers etc..
      I am sick of the images on my HTC being so blurry that I can't read the serial I am trying to record or the cool scene being so blurry that there is no point showing anybody.

      I am "this" far away from getting the 920 just so that I can have some decent snaps.

        What 'HTC' do you have? I take daily pics of serials and electronics on my XL and its crystal clear. Also took awesome panoramas of HK. Hoping the One is the same cause I smashed the screen on my XL.

      Every non tech person I know can tell me exactly how many mega pixels their phone camera has, even though they'd have zero idea how fast the processor is, or even how much memory it has.

      While this is true, in comparison to the S4 the camera is just ridiculous. Have a look here (if I'm allowed to link stuff): http://www.mobile-review.com/review/samsung-galaxy-s4-camera.shtml
      It surely isn't obligatory to have an insanely great camera in a smartphone, but if I can get pictures so much better for so little more money, guess what I'll be buying

    it's going onto the web anyway

    I rather have better image quality and good low light performance; the extra pixels just introduce unwanted noises into the image

      Very good point. More pixels isn't necessarily a good thing.

      Yep - I'm not using my phone to take photos for print, I'm using it for everyday stuff or concerts. Once it's above a certain resolution it becomes irrelevant.

      When people do up comparison tables of phones, I'd like to see more stuff like physical sensor size, how much of the colour gamut it sees, aperture size etc rather than "8.7MP trumps 8.0".

    I dont' know about anyone else but I was perfectly happy with the 2Mp shots my Samsung X820 took. So that's the pass mark for me - 2Mp. Anything over that is irrelevant. I'm not even sure what the count on my new phone is.

    Last edited 20/02/13 5:22 pm

      So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. "Give me five bees for a quarter," you'd say.

    I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that while it may turn off buyers who are looking purely at Megapixel as a number, the camera is going to be much better than equivalent 4 megapixel cameras. It won't be a deal breaker though having not looked at the other specs, I can't say yet whether the gamble will pull off though.

      Actually P&S cameras often have larger pixels than this phone still. This will just have larger pixels than most other mobile phones. The pureview 808 is a phone that in standard 5MP mode still has larger pixels than this phone.

      Last edited 20/02/13 5:28 pm

      Most real cameras (even P&S) have a much thicker body than a phone, and as such have a significantly longer focal distance. This allows them use a considerably larger sensor and lens, so they can have larger photosites while still keeping a high pixel count.

      Smartphones will never be as good as real cameras in low light, at least not until we develop large, lensless, plenoptic sensors.

      Well, I mean 4 megapixel cameras in phones :-P

      But to prove my point my 3.2 megapixel 5 year old Nokia produced much better images than my 5 megapixel Blackberry.

      Last edited 20/02/13 8:12 pm

        There's a keyword in that - Nokia. They've been the imaging king for a long time (not that they don't also produce some cheap cameras in cheap phones).

    think the author just want to write somehing out of a stuff he hasn't even tried on...

    Reminds me of a comment by Sony a few years back that soon the mega pixel war woild be over. Because sensor quality and software behind the camera will be the next leap forward

    Megapixels don't count for jack - it's what you do with them. The fact that HTC have added optical stabilization tends to suggest they have put more than cursory effort into getting the camera right.

    I hope HTC does better so that a 3rd top tier competitor enters the arena to raise the stakes even further. Honestly, i'm tired of the Apple vs Samsung competition, there needs to be at least one more to really boost the market.

    So, you assume that consumers still look at megapixels only, and any additional buzzwords are actually a negative? Or just "UltraPixel" specifically?

    Because the One has other camera buzzwords that might ring bells, like "Optical Stabilization", which has been bandied around a lot on real cameras. The more informed consumers might also notice "HDR Video" and "f/2.0", while the geekiest would be quite happy to see "1/3-inch sensor" and "2.0 µm pixels".

    I'm guessing most consumers don't choose their smartphone primarily for the camera - but those that do will probably know more about what to look for than just "megapixels".

    I don't neccesarily think HTC is trying to end any wars because this is only going to cause an ultra-pixel war.

    I would definitely put "4 Ultrapixels" in the spec sheet instead of Megapixels unless that's not allowed?

    8.7 Megapixels, 8.0 Megapixels, 4.0 Ultrapixels

    Does that make it look more appealing? On second thought, maybe not lol.

    Last edited 20/02/13 6:26 pm

      The "mega" in megapixel means "million" (or very close to)
      7 megapixels is therefore shorthand for 7 million pixels.
      Replacing it with "ultra" would render it redundant.

    I'm sure that unlike other manufacturers that spit the MP count out whenever they get the chance, they'll just keep the number hidden as far as they can practically manage to. If they or stores keep it off the piece of paper next to the phone in a store, then the comparisons may largely end there.

      That said, another issue HTC has is stores are set up in a manner that doesn't exactly disadvantage cameras that have poor low light performance. Anyone trying and buying based on whats in store won't be able to test HTC's claims at the outlet anyway. Day time shots may not benefit greatly from HTC's tech, and I'm skeptical if it will be enough of an improvement in low light conditions to really be worth while.

      Further to that, most phone companies low light performance has improved year on year. It'll be interesting to see how this ends up comparing to what other companies release, companies likely to boast improved low light performance.

      It'll be interesting anyway, but I'm not sold.

    Oh I remember when the Iphones were still continuing to hang onto 5 MP camera for ages after all the other phones had gone to 8 and Giz was still stolidly insisting that the iphone was still the very best in every single thing, including the camera.
    So that's all it takes- tech journalists who put the case for things.

    For some strange reasons, I have never taken a picture with a mobile device where I have not first bring it home, put it into the pc, edit and look at how it looks first before I put it in any media social sites. No mobile device camera has ever done an accurate rendition of the picture of how it would look on a pc. Experience have shown what appears nice in your mobile device actually looks heinous on a desktop. So there you go, no matter what camera you put in a mobile device, I will have to run it by my pc before I have any faith to put it in a social site.

    So they've got a sensor with a higher effective ISO speed. I guess there isn't that many people in the target market who remember film cameras though, so it might not make much sense on its own.

    Perhaps if they measured the responsiveness of the other phones' sensors, they might have something to brag about.

    Their marketing team should have come up with a Equivalent pixels measurement!

      Except that's not how it works. 4 megapixels is 4 megapixels and X megapixels is X megapixels. The job ahead of their marketing team is getting across what the larger sensor does for the consumer's pictures and educate them that there's more to photos than pixel amount.

      There is an equivalent it's 4

        Yes I know that, what I'm getting at is, their marketing team should have out some spin on it to make it a stand out feature instead of ignoring it.

    I'm so tired of this guys over zealous assumptions...

    2304 x 1728 dimension photo's not good enough for you? That's larger than most screen screen displays, 7.7 x 5.8 inch photo's at 300dpi, and if the Ultrapixel technology works as well as they say it does, it will look quite damn nice.

    If you want more then that, buy a camera.

    But OOHHH!!! It's going to RUIN them. RUIN THEM!!!

    Calm down buddy, and lrn2 journalist.

    I was seriously considering getting this phone... until I realized it's not coming out for Verizon. Seriously WHAT-THE-F**K! ! ! Why? This does not make sense.

    Personally I applaud HTC's bravery for taking a different direction with smartphone cameras, providing they up their marketing and sales training to undo the megapixel myth. This is the type of phone that will need to show off comparison shots to sell well (even having a glossy brochure in stores, with comparisons against other phones, and a explanation of how the camera works would be a good idea).

    As for tech nerds, most of us are already knowledgable enough to know that larger pixels plus optical image stabilisation will result in much cleaner low light shots and highly detailed well lit daytime photos, and for those that still need convincing I'm sure the reviews of the device will help persuade people that bigger pixels is a great move towards higher quality smartphone photos (an area that HTC has always been behind in until now).

    Camera is one of the most important deciding features when I buy a new phone. Not because I expect DSLR quality out of a small smartphone sensor, but because I rarely take a dedicated camera with me, so I rely on the camera that's always with me to be the best quality it possibly can.

    The HTC One hardware looks great overall (cant wait to see that 4.8" 1080p screen for myself) so much so that I think this would make a great next-gen Nexus device if rebranded by Google and sold with vanilla Android. As someone who doesn't like Sense 5.0 very much, that would make this the perfect smartphone for me.

    Perhaps you should have titled the article "Why The HTC One’s Camera Might Make It The Best-Selling HTC Phone Ever".
    Then you could have gone on to educate your readers about the importance of sensor size in relation to image quality, rather than an article with a catchy title that really went nowhere.
    Maybe even contact HTC and ask them if they have the sensor size specs for theirs and competitors...?
    Went and had a look on HTC's products page for the specs, and thankfully they've published the sensor size:
    BSI sensor, Pixel size 2.0 µm, Sensor size 1/3'
    So for those of us in the world using sensible measurements units ;), that means a 16.76mm (I'd assume diagonal?) sensor size.
    It would be nice to have the dimensions, but I guess we can assume either a 3:4 or 16:9 ratio.
    So other manufacturer's, what's your sensor size?...

    Last edited 21/02/13 9:22 am

      e.g. the iPhone 5's sensor is 1/3.2" (slightly smaller) with 1.4 µm photosites, which is roughly the same as the Galaxy S3 etc.

      But the One also has optical stabilisation, which should help your low-light shots even more (see the Lumia 920).

    ...so what you are basically saying is that the typical consumer WILL be fooled by a silly pixel number, but some how wont be fooled by an 'obnoxious buzzword' ultrapixel? Interesting assumption

    Sence, lack of expandable memory and piss poor battery life are all I think of now when I look at HTC... Why not try a bold move towards larger capacity batteries...

    This is exactly like the MHz/GHz wars in home PCs from the mid/late 90's - early 2000's. When new technology came along, a smaller number brought better performance. Consumers adopted the technology. Next please.

    Well im considering the 808 for its 41 megapixel and awesume pureview camera tech as my next phone (current being S2), so yeh i think the camera matters in phones.

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