htc one m9 88

There’s no denying that the One M9 has received fairly mixed response since its debut. With its familar design and only incremental improvements in terms of power and feature set, some felt the M9 just wasn’t a big enough of a jump forward. However, this week HTC revealed a secret weapon, at least for those in the United States. Its oddly named Uh Oh warranty program provides some serious perks that make customer’s lives easier, offering a one-time free phone replacement for damage, carrier switching and so forth that’s good for up to 12 months after purchase.

This type of move shows HTC believes the path forward is less about raw power and features, and more about customer experience. It’s a similar angle we’ve seen from Motorola with the Moto X, G and E: provide a solid user experience first and foremost, worry about high-end specs and flashy design second. Of course the approach still differs from these two, with Motorola’s route involving customization and personalization and HTC simply making its purchase “worry free” through better warranties.

That leads us to our Friday Debate question: what’s more important, user experience or specs. What about design? Is it too much to ask for the best of both worlds? What do you consider the perfect phone experience: a raw super-powered phone that flies and has a truckload of special features, or a minimalist experience that’s easy to use and never lets you down?

As is tradition, we’ll start by showcasing a response to this question from a forum member. 

Jayfeather

Honestly, I think that user experience is becoming more and more important. Almost every phone nowadays has a bunch of features or awesome hardware, which is something that I really like. However, it just isn’t that special anymore, and there are things that manufacturers should be looking at. Phones have come a long way in a short period of time, and they have almost reached perfection. Now that most phones are already so fast I think it is time that the focus is shifted toward the user experience. After all, it is the way that the consumer perceives the phone and the overall user experience.

Hardware was improved and features were added to improve the user experience. In the year 2015, it does not look like there is a whole lot of room for improvement in this area, as specs and these features are almost perfect. There are slight performance improvements in between each generation, some new features added here and there. However, these are no longer new, and I think that HTC and Motorola are shifting towards the proper direction. They are working towards improving the user experience in areas other than hardware and software features, which is offering replacements and other programs that are really just convenient really for the user. After all, it is all about how convenient it is to use, and the programs that HTC and Motorola are establishing works toward overall convenience. HTC really did something amazing, which is that they will offer a one-time replacement program if you wish to have your HTC phone replaced. I think that is a fantastic idea. More and more people are struggling to keep their phones from breaking. As phones are getting thinner and thinner, I feel like they are sacrificing their structural integrity.

Samsung’s new S6 is thinner, and in an attempt to make it feel more premium, they added glass to the back. While this may make it feel more premium, it is really a step backwards, as now it is much more fragile and they eliminated one of the best features in a Samsung phone: the removable battery and SD card slot. Really, this tradeoff was not worth it. This is the difference between Samsung and HTC: Samsung is focusing more on features and specs in that they are worrying too much about what the phone feels like, and will sacrifice user experience and convenience in order to make it feel better. So not only did they make it worse in that regard, it is also more fragile, due to the fact that glass is on both sides. HTC has stuck with their awesome metal design, and kept an SD card slot, which already is more convenient for users, and shows a better balance between user experience, convenience, and specs. More and more people at my school have damaged phones with cracked screens, and this Uh Oh program by HTC is really fantastic. It really helps toward the user experience because it creates a hassle-free experience where the user can replace their phone if they damage it within the first 12 months. That is just really mind-blowing because that is really just too generous almost of HTC. They are beginning to focus more and more on the consumers when they make their products, and that is really just the thing that should be done.

HTC really does a whole lot right, and I hope they continue to do well. Motorola is also taking the correct approach. Motorola is working on an overall good product, that runs well without all the flashiness and shine that is present in other high end phones. In addition, this creates a phone that not only costs less, but has some convenient features, such as the massive battery life. In the review of the Moto E by Linus Tech Tips, he said that the battery life was so good, it was able to last him at least a day, if not more. It ships with an almost stock version of Android, that is faster than these Touchwiz skins, and while is lacks a lot of features, the overall user experience is quite nice. The perfect word to describe this phone is just convenient. It makes a ton of sense, and it really is just a good device. Both companies are definitely taking the correct approach in focusing more on the user experience than specs and features.

What Team AA has to say

Robert Triggs

Well this is the wonderful thing about Android right? There’s something for everyone.

Especially as core mobile technology is more than capable these days, there’s certainly value to be added in cutting edge features, customization, premium designs and warranty programs. Anyone who doesn’t add value in one of these ways has to compete with the OnePlus’ and Meizu’s on bang for buck hardware, a battle that they’ll lose in the long term against cheaper Chinese manufacturing.

Personally, I tend to make all of my technological purchases with the mind-set of buying the best tech I can get to do the job I want, at the best price I can find, without compromising too much on build quality. I suppose I’m more of a hardware oriented person, who’s usually willing to forgo extended warranties, care-packages and cosy ecosystems, as I have had very little issues with my tech and nothing that I can’t usually repair myself. Or perhaps I’ve just been lucky up until now.

That being said, value for money is probably the most important aspect for virtually everyone. As long as people feel that the customized look of their Moto X, extensive HTC warranty program, or cutting edge Samsung specs are worth the money for what they get out of it, then these ideas should all be embraced.

Gary Sims

One disadvantage about the great diversity in the Android world is that the Android manufacturers are competing among themselves. Each OEM needs to add value (perceived or real) to distinguish their handsets from the competition. I must admit that I have never bought the same brand of smartphone twice in succession. I jump from one brand to the next. It is all just Android.

To try to attract customers some OEMs play the numbers game: octa-core processors, better and higher megapixel counts, 3GB of RAM, 2K displays, and so on. And in some markets such tactics work, and work well. Others try tweaking the software itself, that is why Samsung uses TouchWiz, HTC uses Sense, etc.

Of course all the OEMs try to bring the best specs, features and design at the desired price point. But sometimes it all looks a bit like a pack of hungry dogs fighting over some bones. The reason I say this is that Apple doesn’t play that game. The latest iPhone uses a dual-core CPU. When was the last time you saw a flagship Android phone with a dual-core CPU? It has 1GB of RAM, and the iPhone 6 barely has a better than 720p display, while the 6 Plus has only just reached Full HD.

In terms of specs the iPhone is a long way behind similarly priced Android phones. Yet the iPhone 6 (and 6 Plus) sell by the million, why? One reason is because Apple isn’t competing against any other OEMs making iOS devices. Apple single-handedly created and sustains its own eco-system. When it brings out a new device it only needs to be better than the previous generation. Of course, Apple is facing strong competition from Android, but once an Apple user has invested into the Apple ecosystem it is hard to break away, even when Android is offering so much more.

But the pain and trouble of leaving one ecosystem and migrating to the other would be bearable, if the iPhone was complete rubbish. But it isn’t. The thing that Apple sells is the overall experience. It doesn’t play the specs game, what it does is play the experience game.

HTC’s Uh Oh program is an example of an Android OEM taking a look at the bigger picture. To keep consumer loyalty each brand needs to offer more than just the latest CPU and the latest camera sensor. Consumers need to be wooed, cared for, and made to feel they have value. Just giving me a faster processor isn’t going to do that!

Matthew Benson

I’m not sure I agree that HTC is focused on “customer experiences” per se, so much as it is trying to give existing customers reason not to defect to Samsung. If the company was really intent on pleasing customers and increasing sales, it would be releasing the M9 at a lower price point. Last I checked, there is no difference. Considering that costs associated with manufacturing what is essentially the same frame for a second year (third by some individual’s accounts) have gone down, why hasn’t the price tag? Sure you might not make as high a profit margin, but you might actually sell more devices. Last year the choice between S5 and M8 was a no-brainier when it came to build quality. Not the case this year.

Back to the point however, I think at the end of the day, mainstream Android customers only notice visual things. This could be the OS updates, changes to the skin, or the phone’s design itself. This is not to say that specs don’t matter, but if the average Samsung user can’t even distinguish between Android and Galaxy, are they really paying attention to the nitty-gritty?

I think that, by and large, people are concerned with design. Think back to when Apple released the iPhone 3S and the confusion and surprise that ensued. Think about when Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S5 and the disappointment that followed. Heck, just look at the headlines that were made when LG opted to shift its business to the back (G2). Design matters, though at least in the case of Apple, reusing it doesn’t. To a large extent, for everyone else, unless you have something new to turn heads and show off, the product might as well not exist.

I dare say this is because phones gone from being a communication tool and instead are a lifestyle companion. This could not be more true here in Japan, where you will occasionally see people who have decorated their iPhones to such a gaudy extent with stickers, cases, and clip-ons, that you wonder how they can even use the device. Perhaps that type might not care about the phone’s looks since they will change it anyway, but the key is they will change it. Change is, as they say, for the better.

To this end, I wonder why it is more phone companies haven’t tried to do something like LG’s AKA line, which was just announced for international release today. First and foremost the line comes in four different variants. They come with cases that “activate” the personas, with a figure that can be photoshopped into selfies, and even stickers to decorate with. I don’t care if the idea seems childish or “girly”, it’s creative, and no one really notices the fact that the phones themselves are rather unremarkable mid-tier kit.

I think that is the big area where phones can shift into going down the line: OEM-designed accessories. I’m not talking about S-View cases or whatnot. I mean creative, original accessories that enhance the very experience of the phone itself and give people reason to talk. HTC has it’s 8-bit-esque dot case, but the construction is quite rigid and it’s but one (pricey) accessory. How about a bumper? What about replaceable panels for the front BoomSound panels? Why must it always be the 3rd party vendors who come up with all the creative ideas while the OEMs themselves just churn out soulless monoliths year-in, year-out.

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