At least, that’s the impression company CEO Steve Ballmer gave as he joined the stage with HTC’s CEO Peter Chou in New York to champion the manufacturer’s new devices. Just two weeks after Microsoft teamed with Nokia to announce the Lumia 920, it did the same with HTC — and the manufacturer declared the 8X and 8S the “signature phones” of the Windows Phone 8 platform in the process.
“We are more experienced at making Windows phones than anyone,” Chou said. “We have sold more Windows phones than anyone, and we know Windows phone better than anyone.”
It’s no shock that HTC would go out of its way to push its new devices as the signature Windows Phone handsets. What’s a bit more of a surprise is that Microsoft went right along with it. Ballmer said the devices are a collaborative effort between the two companies, right down to their names. He said it makes it easy for customers to walk into the store and just say, “I want a Windows Phone,” and then be given the choice, the 8X or the 8S.
For Nokia, which dedicated all its efforts to the Windows Phone platform, the entire scene had to be a bit unnerving. It’s a bit like if you discovered your significant other declaring their love for someone else in public. It sparks questions, anger and perhaps even a bit of jealousy: “Wait what? I knew you guys were hanging out and everything — but this? I loved you first.”
Well, sorry, Nokia, you were the lonely nerd who supported Microsoft’s struggling platform when it was an ugly duckling. But the critical reception of Windows Phone 8 has turned the operating system into a butterfly, and now the quarterback of the football team just asked it to go to the prom. Now, like any spurned partner, Nokia has already responded to HTC’s announcement.
“While others may choose to tactically re-brand their products, Nokia is driving an industry-leading smartphone franchise — that we call Lumia — exclusively around Windows Phone,” said Chris Weber, Nokia’s head of marketing, in a statement to The Verge.
And Nokia should be angry. It has a right to be upset — not with HTC or Microsoft — but at itself. The company had the tech world excited at the beginning of the month when it unveiled the Lumia 920 and 820. Positive comments flooded Twitter and blogs across the Internet as Nokia showed off the new devices. But then it failed to follow up: it didn’t offer any information. No prices, no release dates, no carrier availability. Windows Phone 8 launches in the end of October and it was Nokia’s day to put the smartphone market on notice. What was it waiting for? What is it still waiting for?
Instead, HTC took the stage with a plan and executed it perfectly. The criticism Nokia is looking to put on the 8X and 8S — that they are tactically rebranded devices running Windows Phone 8 — is not even true. One look at HTC’s new handsets and it is clear that this is hardware designed specifically for Windows.
But one thing even that not even Nokia can deny is that the 8X and 8S are both good news for the Windows Phone platform. Before yesterday, critics considered crazy colors and a style of design that drifted from today’s smartphone norms as “Nokia’s take” on Windows Phone. However, now that HTC is taking a similar approach to its Windows Phones, it is becoming the platform’s identity, something that allows customers to walk into stores and say “that’s a Windows Phone” before they even pick up the device. This is something that has been sorely lacking for Microsoft’s operating system.
Until now, when customers walked into stores, there was the iPhone and there was everything else, which was likely running Android.
HTC’s phones are also confirmed to be offered at three of the four major carriers in the U.S, giving Windows Phone the kind of high-profile reach it hasn’t enjoyed before. Between the platform’s increased presence and its establishment of a true identity as an operating system that comes in a unique package and can be customized for each user, the window for success has never been more open.
A strong showing by Windows Phone is in the best interest of all customers. Commercials and popular media would have you believe that if you’re looking for a top-of-the-line smartphone your choices come down to the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the iPhone. Sales would show those devices are all the high-end smartphone buyer needs, and Android and iOS are enough of a choice.
But, just like with ice cream, where the industry could probably function if chocolate and vanilla were the only two options, it’s a lot better for consumers if there are more flavors. Windows Phone is another flavor, increasingly distinctive thanks to the color options of the handsets and customization features in the platform. Windows Phone comes in a number of variations, and HTC’s devices show that.
The 8X is the direct competitor to Nokia’s Lumia 920. It features a 1.5-gigahertz dual-core processor, a 4.3-inch 720p Super LCD 2 display, 16-gigabytes of storage and NFC support. Some standout features include the same 8-megapixel camera lens that received rave review in the One X and a 2.1 megapixel front-facing wide-angle, both of which can record 1080p video.
The device also comes with Beats Audio. It comes in four colors: Graphite Black, Flame Red, California Blue and Limelight Yellow. It begins shipping for Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile within days of the Windows Phone 8 launch for an early November release.
Meanwhile, the 8S matches up against the Lumia 820. It features a 1.0-gigahertz dual-core processor, a 4-inch WVGA display, 5-megapixel camera with 720p video capture and 4-gigabytes of internal storage. The device also includes Beats Audio technology and a microSD slot. HTC did not specify what carriers will feature the 8S but it’s also on track for an early November release and comes in four colors: Domino, Fiesta Red, Atlantic Blue and High-Rise Gray.
The one thing HTC didn’t get specific about was the price of the handsets, but the 8X will be the more expensive of the two and likely fall somewhere around $200, while the 8S will serve the mid-range with a price anywhere from $50 to $100.
There you have it: new Windows Phone 8 devices, in color, with at least some details on when and where they can be purchased. Is it similar to what Nokia gave us? Yes, but it’s also more. If recent rumors surrounding the 920 are true, Nokia’s flagship device will only be available at AT&T in the U.S, leaving the door open for the 8X to become the most widely available Windows Phone handset ever.
HTC’s vice president of design Scott Croyle said his team tried to “create a symbiotic relationship between the virtual and the physical,” and that’s exactly what they’ve done with the 8X and 8S. The hardware feels superior to nearly every handset on the market outside of the iPhone.
In the case of both devices, the curved glass blends into the rest of the handset, creating a thin profile and design that feels light and comfortable in the hand. The colors of the polycarbonate-unibody are matched perfectly to the tiles of the Windows Phone 8 user interface, which provides a seamless aesthetic look from the inside out and demonstrates the care and detail taken in the design of these handsets.
The amount of time and effort HTC put into the 8X and 8S says a number of things. Nokia is no longer the only manufacturer that sees Windows Phone as an opportunity to succeed and Microsoft, like Google, is willing to work closely with multiple partners to grow the platform and set up the brand: the operating system adapts to you, not the other way around.
Lastly, and most importantly, the attention HTC is showing Windows is another indicator that it’s a solid platform. The software never received this type of attention before — manufacturers didn’t believe it could be successful. If it is, that’s good for everyone. ♦