My breakup with HTC


First, apologies if you're seeing this twice.  I posted this in the Android forum earlier today (many thanks to all that responded), but I'd like to get input from the mobile community as a whole.


I recently wrote this letter to HTC (and have not received a response from them).  Would love input, as well as ideas on how I can get the attention of people at HTC that are in a position to actually affect change. 

Here it is:


Dear HTC,

I love your phones.  I really, really do.  The first time I ever really fell in love with a piece of technology was the day that I got my Nexus One.  Until that point, I’d suffered through two Blackberries, and before that, I was a user of Sony Ericsson’s feature phones (which I’d always liked a lot, but they still felt kind of incomplete).  The minute I held that Nexus One, though—with the incredible build quality, the perfect heft (not heavy, but not so light that it felt like a toy), and the beautiful design—I was a convert.  I was immediately an HTC fanboy.


The Nexus One also introduced me to the Android operating system.  While it was probably a little more difficult to learn than iOS (which I’d come to know on my iPod), I found it to be much more powerful and a lot more customizable.  With iOS, you are forced to do things in a very specific way; essentially, you must use the device the way that Steve Jobs pictured himself using it.  Android let me make my phone personal.


All of this praise will make my next sentence very surprising:


I am done with HTC.


I am, at heart, a hardware guy.  I won’t use Samsung or LG because their phones feel cheap.  Until next year, Nokia will be all but unavailable in the US.  I find Apple’s design language to be a bit dull.  HTC makes—by a large margin—my favorite hardware.


On the other hand, as a person who is heavily reliant on my phone for both work (I travel extensively for a living) and personal use, I have to have good, intuitive software that is fast and agile.  Additionally, as a gadget nerd, I expect to have the most up-to-date software available.  Because of this, I can no longer be an HTC customer or evangelist.


I know that you love your Sense UI, and the vast majority of your customers agree with you (or, quite frankly, don’t know what a UI is, and have never used anything with stock Android).  On the other hand, most technophiles that I know really dislike it.  It makes your phones slow and buggy, and it takes up a ton of memory (you really should have someone show you the difference in performance between an HTC phone running Sense and an HTC phone running stock Android).  Additionally, it keeps updates from happening in a timely fashion.  Other than my Nexus, my office provided me with a Droid Incredible.  It’s still on Android 2.2, and version 4.0 is about to be released.  That is absolutely unacceptable.  Why so slow?  One word: Sense.  We both know that if stock Android was on the phone, the updates would have happened a long time ago.


The truly painful part, though, is that you can’t even seem to communicate truthfully to fans like me.  You went very public with a pledge to ship all future phones with unlocked bootloaders, and have completely failed to do this.  That’s quite a slap in the face to those of us that praised this move as an industry-leading decision, and as an example of a large corporation listening to its customers.


There are some fairly simple solutions, though experience has told me that you’re not interested.  Regardless, I’ll give it a shot:


·         Provide a simple, one (or two) step download process to remove Sense UI and install stock Android onto any HTC phone.  Such a download should be available either from the Android Market or from the HTC website (it would have to be side-loaded).  Those of us that want to do so would be willing to pay for such a download.  If I had to guess, you could charge $25-$50 per download, and split that revenue with the carriers (we all know that you guys put bloatware on the phones at the demand of the carriers.  If the carrier got an extra $12-$25 per handset that removed it, they’d probably be perfectly happy with the arrangement).  The carrier’s half goes straight to their bottom line, and your half goes to hire one guy from Cyanogen Mod to keep the stock Android builds up-to-date for all the HTC phones.

·         Ship phones with an option at initial boot-up: Keep Sense UI running (and this could be listed as “Strongly Recommended”) or go to stock Android (could be listed as “this will void your warranty and is recommended only for power users”).  The vast majority of your customers will stick with Sense.

·         Bury an “on/off” switch for Sense UI deep in the settings menu.  Those of us that follow Engadget and This Is My Next will hear about it from those sources.  No one else is ever likely to find it.

·         At the bare minimum, keep the promise you made to your customers and ship your phones with the bootloaders unlocked.  At least then the Android community will be able to more easily do what you refuse to do: make the software on your phones as useable, modern, and up-to-date as your hardware.


The giant bonus to doing any of these (preferably the first option on the list) is that you would become the darling of the early-adopters and the tech nerds.  Every group of friends has at least one person that loves this stuff, and whenever anyone else in that group goes to update their phone, they ask that one person what they should buy (because, let’s face it, the choices are overwhelming for the average consumer).  HTC has the opportunity to be the one company that every tech nerd is excited to recommend to their friends, because they know the phones will stay up-to-date and bugs will be quickly addressed and fixed.  Right now, I feel forced to tell all of my non-tech friends that they should get the iPhone, because I know it will be updated regularly and won’t be filled with frustrating bloatware.


More importantly, every app developer on the planet will start using HTC phones as their reference devices.  Apps—the backbone of any great ecosystem—will be designed with your phones, meaning they’ll run best on HTC hardware.  Your phones have always had blazing-fast internals; this move would mean that the apps would be optimized for those internals.


If/when you ever make it easy for me to have the latest version of stock Android on your wonderful hardware, I’d love to be a customer again.  At this point, it’s looking like I’ll be waiting to see what Motorola does.  If they don’t do anything more interesting than what they’re doing now, 2012 will be the year that I just switch to Windows Phone and go with Nokia.  Their hardware is as beautiful as yours, and Microsoft isn’t letting OEMs and carriers bog their phones down with a bunch of stuff that the customers don’t want. 


I’ll get to love my phone for the same reason I used to love yours: I don’t have to live with choices that the OEMs and the carriers make for me.  I get to take an operating system and make it my own.


And to answer your question: Yes.  This is the nerdiest break-up letter that’s ever been written.




Mark Little