HTC Vive had big plans to put on some fancy demos at Mobile World Congress, and while the show has been cancelled due to concerns about the coronavirus, that isn’t stopping HTC from announcing three new additions to its Cosmos headset family.
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Held in Berlin, Germany, IFA is a huge mashup of appliances, audio equipment, computers, and sausages, and unlike CES, it’s open to the public. Think Coachella for gadget nerds if you will, but with way better beer. And it’s here that a lot of big Asian and European companies get to show their wares, many of which will never see an official stateside release. So we wanted to take a little time to go over all the big phone debuts that happened at IFA 2018.
Earlier this summer when I took a look at HTC’s most recent flagship phone, I was terribly conflicted. On one hand, I was a big fan of the U12+’s clear glass back (haven’t you heard, translucent gadgets are cool again), while its dual cameras on the back are probably the most underappreciated cameras in the smartphone world. Unfortunately, those features weren’t enough to completely redeem below average battery life and really annoying touch sensitive buttons on its side.
After years of declining sales, unloading $1.34 billion worth of patents and personnel to Google, and just recently slashing 25 per cent of its global workforce, when it comes to HTC, I got one big question: So what's left? Sure, HTC may have been able insulate its promising Vive VR business by spinning that department off into a separate company. But as for HTC itself, if all the company has left in the tank is its upcoming crypto phone and this, the new U12+, things aren't looking good.
While other phone makers are busy trying to incorporate notches onto their latest devices, HTC is doubling down on some smartphone innovation that you can actually feel.
When the Vive and the Oculus Rift came out in the spring of 2016, they did something incredible: they made VR actually worth caring about. Previously, the closest thing people had come to virtual reality were weird sci-fi movies or half-baked products like the Virtual Boy. Yet even now, nearly two years later to the day since the original Vive arrived, VR headsets still aren't a household commodity. While that might be a bit depressing for some of us, it's not really that surprising, because the release of those original head-mounted displays was only just the beginning of a much bigger three-step cycle.
When the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive came out in 2016, we entered a new era of virtual reality. No longer would people think of half-assed fever dreams like Lawnmower Man, or ambitious but profound failures like Nintendo's Virtual Boy anytime VR gets mentioned. Even so, modern VR still hasn't caught on. It's awkward, it's expensive, and most of the games and apps still feel like tech demos. But earlier this week, a new piece of VR tech reminded me why the headsets are much more than gimmicks.
Back in the 90s, companies tried making virtual reality a thing, most notably Nintendo, whose Virtual Boy was so distasteful that it caused people to abandon the entire category for the next 20 years. But then in 2016, headsets from Oculus and HTC/Vive showed that the VR experiences people had been writing about in scifi books for years were finally within our reach.
When it announced the iPhone X, Apple pushed the expectations (and price tags) for flagships phones higher than they have ever been before. Now, Google gets a chance to hit back with its own homegrown handsets that will not only show how Google has matured as a hardware maker, but also what's coming soon on Android Oreo. And with a full year of experience and development (including a bunch of new IP and personnel) under its belt, Google really can't afford to mess up its second-generation of Pixels.
Google's getting into the phone hardware business. Properly. It's just signed an agreement with HTC to poach some top smartphone development employees from the Taiwanese phone-maker, as well as to license some of its intellectual property. The deal is said to be worth $US1.1 billion, and will give Google the tools it needs to step up to the plate against Apple when it comes to making a vertically integrated smartphone: everything from the hardware inside it to the software that runs on it.
HTC is reinventing itself. It's no longer the old-school Android smartphone company of a few years ago. It's leaving that behind along with its old, industrial, metal-bodied line-up of One smartphones. Instead, the new HTC is positioning itself as slick and modern, and it's doing that with two new phones built around shiny glass backs and funky colours, with AI smarts that make your life better.