When you think of smartphone platforms, the usual players come to mind. Windows Mobile, Android, WebOS and iPhone are the major players currently. Windows Mobile 6.5 just launched recently, and Android is evolving at  a rapid pace. Palm is continuing to improve WebOS in the Pre […]

When you think of smartphone platforms, the usual players come to mind. Windows Mobile, Android, WebOS and iPhone are the major players currently. Windows Mobile 6.5 just launched recently, and Android is evolving at  a rapid pace. Palm is continuing to improve WebOS in the Pre and soon the Pixie, and Apple is plodding along with the iPhone 3GS. What these companies better be paying attention to is the unnamed platform, HTC Sense.

HTC Sense is not really a platform in the true sense, but it has the ability to become one in the consumer’s eyes. Perception is reality so I can see Sense becoming a platform in its own right, and that is due to the sharp thinking at HTC.

What is a phone platform? It is the OS backbone that runs the entire show, but to the consumer it is simpler than that. The platform is the interface — the way they interact with the phone, their information and more recently the web. It’s the face on the phone as much as anything, and HTC was savvy enough to see that before most in the game.


The early work done by HTC on the TouchFLO 3D interface was just the forebear of the current Sense interface. HTC first put the Sense interface on the Android-based Hero, easily the best phone on that platform to date. Sense is next going on the HD2 phone to be released soon, bringing the interface to the Windows Mobile 6.5 platform. HTC is taking pains to make the Sense interface become ingrained in every aspect of the phone’s operation, the very function a platform is expected to perform.

I just recently completed a thorough evaluation of the HTC Hero handset, and found it to be an outstanding smartphone. This finding was in large part due to the functionality added by the Sense interface. The phone was fun to use, and Sense made it simple to customize the entire interface to fit my needs. That is the way platforms work, at least the good ones.

I have not held a Windows Mobile phone running HTC Sense, but I hope to remedy that soon. I have thoroughly researched the HTC HD2 phone running the new Windows Mobile Sense, and it is simply outstanding. This hands-on video review of the HD2 shows that HTC has the Sense interface permeating every aspect of the phone’s operation, and to the consumer that is the very definition of the platform. Now that HTC has Sense running on both Android and Windows Mobile, it is a game changer in the smartphone world. A multi-platform platform has never been done, and it will shake up the entire smartphone arena.

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  1. I think a lot will depend on developers who have already made a significant investment in time and money on the iPhone, Android, and WebOS platforms. It’s bad enough that I might have to modify my Pre app for the Pixie because the screen is a different resolution, but at least the underlying OS is the same. To get real distribution I next have to recode for the iPhone. But recoding my whole app for Windows Mobile probably isn’t going to happen.

    Maybe HTC has tools and an abstraction layer to make it easier to port from one “platform” to another while using the same display. I’ll have to do more research on that.

  2. This is a very interesting article that brings up some very valid points. I look at the ‘multi-platform platform’ as a very big step and one I will gladly support. I have used WinMo since its early inception on the iPaq 3630; so you know how disappointed one might be in the development (or lack thereof) of WinMo compared to the NKOTB (New Kids on the Block).

    One thing that has kept me with WinMo is the vast array of applications I have, some free, some paid for. It has only been in the last year that some of the top apps have ported to the iPhone and Blackberry. I have not seen any development towards Android yet. Sense offers a great change of pace and still keeps WinMo users happy…for now. I hope to see HTC develop and grow their branded platform. Kudos.

  3. First isn’t the winmo HTC shell touchflo? And programming for different screen resolutions isn’t a huge deal. Windows mobile programmers have dealt with this for a while.

    1. It was called TouchFlo but, as James said, they are renaming it Sense as of the HD2. From what I can tell, Sense seems to be a brand name that’s related to a design philosophy rather than a specific UI. The UI on the hero is widget based while the UI on the HD2 is fullscreen but HTC are referring to both as Sense because they allow the user to interact with their information in similar ways.

      You can see a marketing explanation of Sense on the Hero here: http://wmpoweruser.com/?p=9037

  4. interesting thoughts. yet one important aspect of smartphones, specially winmo phones has been left out completely – not only here on this blog. winmo devices actually are handheld computers with a phone interface (like some symbian phones too) – in contrast to the big bunch of mobiles out in the market that are really only phones with some addons, like music player, radio.
    this means, as long as phone functionality is the major factor of usability any sort of interface might be set up on top of the os as long as its functions are supported.
    yet, with pda phones there has a second aspect of “plattform” to be discussed. computer operability. if this is too far apart from the phone interface it will create troubles among a lot of users.
    unfortunately this is the real, actual weakspot of winmo. no consistent mode of handling phone AND computer.

  5. I’m not too sure HTC Sense has any long-term potential with WinMo handsets, given the leaked info MS has provided for WinMo 7. While it is too early to tell, MS could pull out a revolutionary new GUI with version 7, other changes notwithstanding, eliminating the need for manufacturers to cover their utilitarian 6.x devices with a more modern skin. MS has made it clear that they will be making big changes with version 7 – the problem is that we still need to wait probably another 12 months before MS rolls something tangible out. Handset makers won’t be twiddling their thumbs waiting for that, and neither will consumers.

    1. This is my concern as well. I’d be very surprised if Microsoft continue to encourage the sort of skinning that handset manufacturers currently engage in once WinMo7 comes out. It will be interesting to see where this leaves HTC as they clearly intend to stick with WinMo for most of their range (including their flagship devices) but it will make it difficult for them to tie their brand to their unique interfaces in the long term.

      It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

    2. On the contrary, HTC has single-handedly saved the Windows Mobile platform with TouchFLO/Sense’s deep skinning of the WM experience, and Microsoft has long encouraged them and others to do so by way of Spb Mobile Shell and others too. In fact, the deep level of customization on the entire Windows platform has always been a selling point… here’s what we give you, and here’s how much more you can do through all the vast array of products available.

      Apple has always been the one to stifle that type of practice.

      1. Everything you said is true but I do think Microsoft are going to want to restrict this sort of default skinning in WinMo7. They’ve already started dictating the hardware that OEMs need to use for WInMo7 and if the rumours of a Zune-like interface are true I think they’ll insist on that being used.

  6. James, you’ve long been a critic of this level of skinning on WinMo and Android phones. Does this represent a conversion?

    1. I haven’t been a critic of skinning as much as the aging Win Mo platform that requires it to be truly functional. I have long used Spb Mobile Shell to get good use out of the platform. What HTC is doing is more of an impact because it is preloaded on their phones. Theirs is the interface that consumers are seeing in the store. Thus, theirs is the “platform.”

  7. Silverlight will attempt to do the same thing you describe here. Mark my words – this summer you will see multi-touch capacitive WinMo 7 running Silverlight apps including the upcomming Office 2010 free Silverlight versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.

    As far as applications go, you pick up quite a few if your phone can run Silverlight ;)

  8. HTC’s decision to create their own TouchFlo interface and then make it multiplatform with Sense is a really smart move. The next step in making it a platform would be opening it to third party developers.

    Having said that, I’d also say that HTC is hardly original in this.

    Everyone else is doing it too. Samsung TouchWiz, LG S-Class are also multiplatform interfaces for their phones. Samsung’s ToucWiz works on their own feature phones, WinMo, Symbian and (most likely) Android soon. LG’s S-Class is now on their own OS and WinMo. We also have Motorola Blur, Sony Ericsson’s panels that started with WinMo Xperia X1, now on Xperia X2, Symbian Satio and, probably, Android Xperia X3. Even Acer is doing it’s own interface for their WinMo and Android devices.

    Of them all, Samsung is the most advanced in making their TouchWiz Wiz UI into a platform. They have the volumes to make it interesting, already opened TouchWiz for third party developers, released an SDK, and they are rolling out their own app store.

    1. You’re right, Samsung did this early on. But, I believe that HTC can create a much bigger impact, given that they are a huge maker of phones cross-platform. This can be a big deal in the Smartphone space given how huge they are.

      1. If you create your own interface as a platform, open for third party developers, who then can create widgets/apps to run on top of it, the distinction between smartphone and feature phone becomes sort of meaningless.

        So the potential impact of Samsung, with it’s this cross-platform interface, should be much bigger.

        And one thing HTC is not, it is not huge. As far as overall mobile phone market goes, and even in smartphone category, they are pretty small fish. HTC shipped 12 mil devices (yes, all smartphones) last year, and will, maybe, ship 15-20 mil. of them this year. Which is pretty small amount even for smartphone category.

        And Samsung almost cought up with HTC even in smartphone shipments last year already. This year, between WinMo Omnia’s, Symbian Omnia HD, Android Galaxy, Moment and others, Samsung, most likely, will surpass HTC even in Smartphones. All running the same, cross-platform Touch-Wiz interface.

    2. Yeah, I see your point, and I buy it, but when I look at the hardware being released by Samsung compared to the hardware being released by HTC, Samsung still looks and feels clunky to me. Maybe it’s just my tastes, but I’ve liked almost all of HTC’s designs.

      I have yet to find something about the Samsung platform that I actually LIKE either. I found the Omnia to be downright frustrating. Flexibility/customization without ease of use isn’t a way to build a platform.

      HTC, on the other hand, has given more and more flexibility with each release of TouchFLO/Sense they push out, and it’s ridiculously easy for a consumer to use.

      I agree with James… I really believe HTC is going to be a powerful player over the next few years.

  9. Agree 100% with Staska. Samsung was first with TouchWiz, and are much further ahead also. Their widgets are actually cross platform already.

  10. GoodThings2Life Saturday, October 17, 2009

    James, I actually completely agree with you on this. HTC Sense is the “Java” of the mobile world… a platform that works on multiple platforms.

    HTC has taken two great platforms already– Windows Mobile and Google Android– and has begun giving users a consistent experience across their devices regardless of the OS. This is a testimony to WinMo and Android in that it reflects their flexibility and functionality. WinMo’s UI may be dated, but the rest of the platform is chugging right along no matter what its critics claim, and this proves it. Android while new and unfamiliar to most is also getting a huge boost because of this flexibility as well… and it’s the consumers that are reaping the rewards and benefits of it.

    Soon it won’t matter if you choose Windows Mobile or Android, you’ll want to choose HTC… and if Apple is arrogant enough to ignore them, it’s going to cost them. They’re not the only ones, either… Blackberry may still be popular for business users, but their platform makes WinMo seem flashy and new by comparison.

    Oh, and I’m loving my HTC Touch Pro 2… still running TouchFLO and Spb Mobile Shell, but definitely anxious about the WM6.5/Sense update that’s coming.

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