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Is it okay for HTC One M9 to reuse the M8's design?

For this week's Friday Debate we talk about the One M9's alleged design, and how it appears to be nearly identical to its predecessor.
By
January 23, 2015
HTC-One-M9-2015-Proto1

There’s been a lot of rumors relating to upcoming devices this week, doubly so for the HTC One M9. One of the biggest things about the M9 is the design, in that it appears to be almost identical to the M8. While we are sure to discuss other upcoming handsets in the future, for this week we want to focus the topic on the HTC One M9.

Our Friday Debate question is when is it okay to reuse a phone design? Does a recycled design make new handsets less appealing? If you do feel that each new model should have its own distinct language, how do you feel HTC could have improved on the M9’s design, if the rumored images we’ve seen are correct?

First, let’s hear from our community:

MasterMuffin

Well design certainly is one highly debatable topic, but I guess that’s why this is called the Friday Debate!

Not updating the flagship phone’s design is a risky move. There are examples of it not working at all, but there’s also at least one manufacturer that is able to pull it off: Apple. As you all know, Apple always first releases an iPhone with some number and then a year later comes a new iPhone with the same design and the letter “s” in its name. And do the models with the letter “s” sell? Yes, yes they do and extremely well. There are plenty of reasons why, but the loyal fanbase and reputation of theirs is perhaps the biggest reasons. On the other hand, Android manufacturers are somewhat missing these two things. Samsung is a great example as their revenue keeps going down and phones like S4 and S5 got a lot of criticism due to their design being “old”.

HTC isn’t Samsung or Apple though. Compared to Samsung or Apple they are relatively unknown and the sales of M7 and M8 are minuscule. That means most of the potential customers will see a completely new looking design in M9 and will probably like it since it’s a great design (the square(ish) camera really doesn’t matter). What matters for HTC is money and sales and reusing M8’s design might just get them that, plus it is easier and cheaper. “Others do it too!”

Still my personal opinion is that if the leaks turn out to be real, I won’t touch it because I don’t like how you can’t tell it apart from the older model. Also a less round design could make handling so much easier! Just personal preference, but I’m sure many agree with it. Have to give them some props too: the power button finally being where it should be is definitely a small but good change in design!

Shawny

Strange how HTC we’re losing profit last year for their camera mishap and now they’re following Samsung’s foot steps (the plastic chassis repetition) in copying their predecessor’s form factor, minus the duo camera. HTC should learn from Sony too, look at the Z1 & Z2 series. I don’t think the Z2 was much of hit since it looked quite similar and thus contributing to the losses made by Sony. Honestly, I am struggling to also see the future creativity being offered by HTC, if any, since they’re now just copying their previous iteration. I would honestly stick to the m8 to not only save money but because I wouldn’t feel like I upgraded much.

From a nerd’s perspectives, the only way for the m9 to make such a huge difference to the m8 is if it has amazing specs and a really distinguishing feature from the market like an iris scanner. Maybe that would be enough to persuade me in that direction and not look the other way. Otherwise, to all those who know little about specs or the predecessor, the m8 was an amazing looking phone, so it’s needless to say that it won’t attract different consumers from any market.

What Team AA has to say

Now that you’ve had a look at what our community members had to say, it’s time for Team AA to weigh in:

Gary Sims

At an almost meta level, design has two distinct elements: form and function. Both of these elements are important when it comes to smartphones. The difference between the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the HTC One (M8) is huge in terms of form, and small in terms of function. The functional aspects of all smartphones are very similar. It comes down to differences like: which side is the volume rocker, or is the battery removable. Of course, form and function have huge areas of crossover, and when combined the “design language” of an object can be seen.

If you compare the HTC One M7 with the M8, what do you see? Me, I see the same functional design and many similarities in terms of form. The overall design language of the M7 and the M8 are same. They are different expressions of the same core principles. Since the M8 jumped from 4.7 inches to 5 inches then the M8 looks different when put side-by-side with the M7. But if two people walked into a room, one with a M7 and one with a M8, I reckon that only the true smartphone enthusiast would be able to tell them apart, without a detailed inspection. However, everyone would see clearly that they are both a HTC One.

So that leads us to the M9. Personally I am taking the current round of leaked images with a large grain of salt. However if we accept the notion that they truly are leaks of the M9, then we have an interesting conundrum. HTC has designed lots of smartphones, it has experimented with many different types of form and function. Look at the HTC Hero from 2009 and compare it to HTC’s current One or Desire phones.

Since HTC has clearly developed its design language over the years, it would seem odd if HTC suddenly stopped and just re-used the case from an old phone. But… Take a look at the HTC Eye and the HTC Desire 826… They are very similar. What I guess this means is that HTC will keep the M9 looking like a HTC One and it will borrow heavily from the previous iterations, but it won’t be exactly the same.

Robert Triggs

For me there are two big factors at play here, the need for smartphone vendors to differentiate their brand with a unique looking product and the issue of form and function.

On the one hand, it benefits HTC, Sony, Apple, and Samsung greatly to develop a stylistic look to their products. One that makes their design unique and identifiable, and preferably something that you’d be willing to push in your friend’s face to convince them to buy one. There’s nothing wrong with improving a good looking and practical design with better internal hardware, the technology market has been doing this for years. However, function is a different matter.

As Gary said, vendors all have their own look and feel based on a core function, but keeping the same design for generation after generation implies, to me at least, that the company believes it has perfected aesthetic and practical smartphone design. I believe that this is in error, for starters lot of OEMs could learn a thing or two from each other. HTC’s front facing speakers are a great idea, LG’s rear button location is more practical, and OPPO’s swivelling camera is pretty neat. In this sense, I think that some developers are failing to experiment with and improve the functionality of their products by sticking to identical designs between generations. Not to mention, it’s rather boring to see the same phone year after year.

As for the M9, I’m in the minority that find the One’s design rather ugly. There’s something about the proportions, logo placement, and weird lines across the back that look off to me. I would prefer that HTC ditch the boxy look, get rid of that wasted space for the logo, and do something to make me go “wow, how come no-one else though of doing that”. I’m waiting HTC.

Matthew Benson

Quite frankly, when I wrote the two posts about the M9 leaks this week, the main thing on my mind was shock at HTC for reusing the same design. The Taiwanese business has, as many said, always been a “design” company that focuses on aesthetics to make up for the fact that it’s not the most popular, most desired, or most anything. The design of the M7 and M8 were praised around the world and truly stood out in a time when Samsung was still bent on plastic. Heck, even the (in my opinion) silly HTC Re “periscope” looks unique for what it is, though I’d never buy or seek to use one.

I had both the M7 and M8 for some time and truly found the latter to be fantastic to hold and behold. It was one of those products where you don’t want to put a case on it and often just stare at and admire while waiting for a train or such, thinking “this is really nice”. The M8 didn’t release here in Japan and thus many people asked over the months what phone I was using and expressed a desire to buy one were it a domestic sale. Suffice to say, there is nothing wrong with the design of the One M8, at least in my book. But for me, there is something wrong with HTC reusing it for 2015. The problem is largely based on the perceived value of the product itself, and in the fact that HTC simply pales in comparison to a following anywhere in the same galaxy as Apple.

On Apple and the iPhone “S” installments:

Everyone knows, and often teases, that Apple is on a 2-year product design cycle when it comes to iPhones. Every new number begets a second year with an “S” tacked on and almost exclusively internal changes as opposed to cosmetic (i.e. design) ones. While the original culprit, the 3S, was basically accepted due to it being the early days of the product, the iPhone 4S on the other hand, was met with a large degree of initial disgust. Yet it sold better than all other iPhones. The 5S had the same thing, though everyone knew it was going to happen, and again it sold better than all previous devices. In trying to examine why this is, I have came up with 3 reasons why Apple can get away with this:

1. Apple has managed to provide a “legitimate” reason to buy an “S” product. The 3S was exponentially faster and more powerful than the 3G, which allowed everything to work much better. The 4s had Siri which for some, was a major feature, and the 5s had the iTouch fingerprint sensor (and dual flash). Especially with the 5s, the product took on an entirely new level of functionality with the ability to unlock your password-protected device with literally just the placement of your fingertip. Android fans might seek to detract from it, but trust me: the thing works and saves time. Something that I can’t say holds true of any of Samsung’s efforts last year.

2. Apple is able to ensure that people on a 2-year contract won’t feel “out of the loop” by having missed something. While many of us enthusiasts change phones at the drop of a hat, the vast, vast majority of consumers don’t. They stay locked to their carrier and contract. One sure-fire way to annoy customers is to quickly release a new product and make the existing customers feel outraged and angry for being stuck with theirs. (Look at Sony customers and the Xperia Z/Z2/Z3).

Apple’s release schedule ensures that if you get an iPhone 6, you won’t need to “hate” the company for an even better looking 6S coming out this year. This is doubly true for those who buy the iPhone 6 just months or weeks before the launch of the 6S.

3. Apple has truly loyal customers who will buy anything and everything it puts out. They won’t care if it looks exactly the same so long as it’s new, it’s hard to find, and it’s chic.

Why HTC can’t get away with “pulling an Apple”:

Given that many people who considered or purchased the M8 might have been put-off by the Duo Camera, I will concede that the possibility of a standard, 20-megapixel unit on the rear could be seen as a legitimate hardware upgrade for some. I will also concede that should my second argument be true, HTC’s decision to retain the same design would allow those with the M8 to feel comfortable knowing their device isn’t “old”. It’s the third reason that becomes the problem though: I suspect that HTC has very few die-hard fans left at this point, having burned so many bridges with poor OS updates in the past. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have fans mind you, just that the number simply pales in comparison to that of Apple, or even Samsung.

So what we have here, is HTC apparently deciding to release the same phone as last year, with better hardware components. The M9 is, for lack of better words, the M8S. While I’ve already suggested that there was nothing wrong with the M8 to necessitate a new design, I do foresee a few problems with this decision:

1. Samsung is planning something very dramatic with the Galaxy S6. Rumors upon rumors suggest that the company is going to totally redesign the phone this year, and there are countless reports of a metal body and recently, even of a glass back. By using the same design as last year, HTC has instantly shot itself in the proverbial foot as far as aesthetics go: it’s been there, done that as opposed to uncharted territory.

2. The M9 will be confusing to customers. Consider that any given mainstream owner might not know their M8 is called the M8, if they even know its called the One. Assuming there are enough people who simply say “I have an HTC”, or better yet, “I have an Android” and don’t know even the manufacturer, the M9 will be, on first glance, exactly what they already have. While this may be a very minor point, when you think about new customers trying to choose between the M8 and M9 with the former being much cheaper, it would seemingly make little sense for the average customer to go with the new hardware on the sole basis of it being “new” when it looks the same and costs more.

3. HTC will really need to include some major internal differentiation to substantiate M8 users upgrading the hardware. On the contrary, all rumors indicate the screen will still be 1080p as opposed to QHD, and the phone will still retain the “useless” HTC logo off-centering the screen. A 20 megapixel camera would be nice should that pan out, but is a camera and CPU boost enough for most customers (especially those on-contract) to upgrade? I’m not quite sure.

I almost feel as if HTC let the ball drop here. It could be that, as others suggested, the company’s being back-in-black means it doesn’t want to spend lots of cash on new R&D when it already has a highly praised product. It could also be that the company simply didn’t have the ability to make the new design it wanted (either via technical issues or cost related ones). Something is definitely up however, as the idea of HTC, of all companies, reusing the same design for a second year is just plain bizarre. Granted the M7 and M8 weren’t so different from each other, but the M8 still looked refined and polished enough to (for me at least) be viewed as a different yet superior-looking product.

Now it’s your turn

You’ve heard from our community members and Team AA, now it’s your turn. What do you think of the idea of HTC essentially utilizing the same case with the M9 as we saw with the M8?