How HTC can shake up Windows Phone
The Windows Phone device market is dominated by one manufacturer. Until recently we called that manufacturer Nokia, now it's known as Microsoft Devices.
Windows Phone was never intended to be a single brand market: the 2010 launch of Windows Phone 7 saw many of the large manufacturers join the party, amongst them was HTC, offering numerous devices. But that variety quickly petered out, with Nokia later moving over to become more or less the only choice.
With rumours swirling of HTC's re-entry into the Windows Phone market - and leaked Verizon images fanning that fire - there's a lot that HTC can do to bring diversity to the Windows Phone.
The current Windows Phone flagship is the (Nokia) Lumia 930. It's a powerful device, but a little on the chunky side. It matches many of the specs of flagship Android devices and offers a great experience.
The HTC One (M8) - one of the best Android phones - excels in design, with its premium metal body. The design has been widely lauded, and although Nokia is also loved for its design, introducing a full metal Windows Phone would set it apart from the brightly coloured and plastic bodies that dominate Nokia's range.
It's not just about the great feel of the construction material, it's also about how well the device fits into the hand. For a phone with a 5-inch display (and a great display too), the 2014 HTC One is one of the nicest phones to hold, down to the sculpting of the rear casing, distinctly different from the squared profile of the Lumia 930. There's the option of microSD card storage expansion too.
READ: HTC One (M8) review
Then there's BoomSound. You might not give much credence to the speakers on your phone, but once you've experienced BoomSound you'll value them. Speakerphone calls are richer, mobile videos are great, gaming audio is in an entirely different league.
When it comes to the camera, things get a little more interesting. The UltraPixel camera, including the latest Duo Camera arrangement, brings some clever features, but faces a seriously tough competitor from the PureView cameras on the top Lumia handsets.
Some have dismissed the Duo Camera as a bit of a gimmick. Where HTC has tried to sell this novelty to Android users, it may face the same battle with Windows Phone. This is likely to be a divisive point in any Windows Phone device that HTC launches, and could be the biggest barrier to adoption.
But those external elements are only part of the smartphone puzzle. Nokia's dominance of Windows Phone is due in many parts to way it plugged the gaps in Microsoft's software. Undoubtedly Nokia offered a better software solution than stock Windows Phone.
Windows Phone 8.1, however, takes Microsoft's mobile OS further forward than before and those Nokia enhancements are now under the same roof. The extent of any division between a Nokiasoft and a stock Windows Phone experience remains to be seen (to a certain extent), however many of the nice features and apps would appear on any WP device, like Cortana.
HTC has done a fair amount to enhance the software experience of its own devices too. Sense 6.0 offers one of the fastest Android experiences around. That's what we're looking for in Windows Phone and that's what we'd expect HTC to bring, the speedy operation.
BlinkFeed is one of the headlines of Sense, integrating content from lots of sources into one place. This would have to be done as an app, but could be a great social aggregator above what Windows Phone already offers.
One of the included elements on the Android HTC One M8 is Fitbit integration, using the onboard sensors that work in a low power state. The Lumia SensorCore offers the same functionality (on the 630 and 930), but this is also the same tech used by HTC's funky Dot View case, as well as HTC's Motion Launch Gestures, which again, could bring diversity.
The new Zoe app (currently beta on Android) sees HTC breaking out one of the nice features of Sense and making it available across all Android devices. It lets you edit photos and video clips to create funky highlight videos, and goes hand-in-hand with Zoe.com, which HTC will use for wider sharing of this content. It's a play to bringing HTC software to a wider community.
This could also come to Windows Phone and form part of the software suite to rival some of the imaging highlights of Nokia devices. We'd also expect HTC to continue to offer IR support through the TV app, giving you control over your home entertainment system through your phone.
If there's a phone design we want to see in Windows Phone garb, it's the HTC One. However, there's one other element that HTC needs to consider, and that's price. The Lumia 930 (SIM free) is currently available for £100 less than the HTC One (M8). Is that a premium that customers will pay? We think much of that will come down to software additions and that camera performance.
We'd love to see HTC come back to Windows Phone offering a premium handset design, bringing much needed variety. It's the design we're really excited about, but HTC will face the same challenge as it does in Android with the Duo Camera.