htc zoe bea

HTC’s Zoe has just graduated from a low-key proprietary app to an open platform set to compete with giants like Instagram and Vine.

As revealed earlier this week, HTC is trying its hand at a new game – creating software and services for users of devices from other manufacturers. Developed by a 260-strong group called Creative Labs, Zoe is the first step on this new path, with other projects to follow.

Zoe is now available in the Play Store in beta and HTC hopes to have a stable version out by the end of the autumn. For now, the app is compatible with a handful of phones: all devices running Sense 6, the LG G2 and G Pro 2, the Nexus 5, and Samsung’s Galaxy S4, S5, and Note 3. Eventually, Zoe will be compatible with all devices running Android 4.4 or higher.

So, what’s all the fuss about? The new Zoe is more than the tool for creating highlight reels, that you may know from the One (M7) and One (M8). Basically, you select pics and clips, pick up a theme and a soundtrack, and the app turns them into a nice little video, with transitions, effects, and all that pizazz.

But now Zoe also has a social component, allowing you to follow and be followed, just like on Instagram. The service’s unique twist is that it lets you “remix” other people’s highlight reels, by rearranging or removing some pics or by inserting new ones. If the thought of giving strangers the ability to play with your personal photos scares you, there’s an option to limit the remixing ability to only some people.

You can also get a unique URL for your highlight that you can share with whomever you want, so your mom can see your vacation pics without having to use Zoe.

After playing briefly with the app, I came away reasonably impressed. Zoe was obviously well thought-out and I liked the app’s Sense-infused esthetic.

But you need more than a pretty interface to make a social app work, especially when you go against competition of Instagram’s caliber. Regardless of Zoe’s fate, I have to salute HTC for opening up and trying new things, even if the ongoing struggle in the smartphone business was the main reason for opening up.

Check out Zoe Beta in the Play Store.