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And from left field...
A few years ago HTC released its first widely acknowledged smartphone in the US: the T-Mobile G-1. Notice its name--HTC had such little name recognition in the US that they didn't even brand it with their name. Now, HTC has a whole line of phones on every carrier and they have become known as some of the best out there. Why has this little, relatively unknown Taiwanese company made such an impression on the cell phone market? Here's a few reasons:
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1. It is an Early Adopter and Innovator
HTC has actually been around for a while now. They released their first device in 1999, a handheld PC when the PDAs were still relatively new. Then they were one of the first to use Windows Mobile with their first device in 2002. When this didn't work they were the very first to adopt Google's Android mobile operating system. Clearly they have an eye on the future and are not afraid to try new things.
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2. They have Android
A while back every phone manufacturer would come up with a new operating system for every phone so that they would be slow, cumbersome, difficult to use and poorly thought out. But Android is a standardized OS that allows the phone to run on a lot of different types of hardware and in a lot of different ways. As part of this, HTC is a member of the Open Handset Alliance which promotes the Android OS. Not only do they have Android down but they have defined what Android is all about. And the amazing advantages of being on board with Android--including complete integration with Google services and access to the Android Market--rival those provided by other manufacturers.
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3. The Sense User Interface
Part of the way they have defined Android and made it mainstream is by building a user interface on top of it that makes using the phone easy while retaining high levels of customization. The underlying structure of the phone's Android OS stays the same--they simply made added menus and such for easier use. The Sense UI is key to their success and part of what makes their phones so great.
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4. Crazy Customization
The Sense UI's primary advantage is that it is intensely customizable. It consists of 7 homescreens with movable buttons and widgets and it allows you to organize the phone in limitless ways. If this isn't enough, Sense allows you to have Scenes that change all 7 home screens easily to different setups so you can have one for work, one for games, and one for mixed use depending on what you are doing. I feel like I could experiment for years on the different ways to tailor this phone to my ever changing needs.
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5. Cross Phone Standardization
Even though the actual user interface is highly variable, HTC uses the same UI on all the phones they are releasing with only minor tweaks regardless of the operating system beneath. Of course this is becoming the norm but it wasn't this way before. I remember going through a few LG and Motorola phones and each had different UIs that you had to get to know and adjust to. Now, it doesn't matter if I get an HTC Hero or Incredible--I get the same Sense UI that I know how to use and customize to my needs.
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6. They keep on the cutting edge of Hardware
This summer's generation of phones represented a leap from last years with 1GHz processors, larger screens, and large increases in memory and storage capacities. They also introduced the two-camera setup, with an 8 megapixel camera on the back for pictures and another camera on the front for video chatting. Then there was the step up to the first 4G capabilities. While other companies also had similar features (including the new iPhone 4G), HTC had theirs out earlier and with comparable models on two different carriers.
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7. A variety of quality hardware to choose from
HTC has produced an amazing number of phones, all of which have an impressive array of hardware. They do have the cutting edge when it comes to hardware but if you can't afford these more expensive versions their older models (like the Hero) are still well built and beautiful pieces of hardware. In addition to this they have a variety of body forms and builds including some with physical keyboards.
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8. They have Standard Jacks and Ports
One of the most annoying things manufacturers have done in the past is to force you to buy extra products by putting strange connectors and requiring extra software you had to purchase. Of course Apple does this with the iPhone. But with any HTC phone you have a standard sized micro-USB to USB port that requires no software at all to connect to your computer. They all have the same size port and these cords are incredibly cheap. Also they all have normal sized headphone jacks so you don't need to buy headphones from the manufacturer.
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9. They are on all Carriers
It's getting to the point where the cellphone carrier really isn't all that important. If I move to an area that has better Verizon 3G coverage or if I find that Sprint's prices are more affordable, I should be able to go to either one without having to sacrifice the quality of phones. Manufacturers who sign exclusive deals provide a limited base of users that can be frustrating for those who want a certain phone. Of course we all know about the complaints iPhone users have had with AT&T. HTC provides comparable smartphones on pretty much every major carrier so you can always come back to them.
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10. They are always forming new Partnerships and Adjusting to Market changes
A sign of a good company is that they are not so self-centered that they rely on themselves for everything. This allows them to expand their capabilities quickly and keep up high-quality products (no company can develop everything themselves). Even Apple has had to do this in the last couple of years, even though they have a history of proprietary manufacturing and design. HTC has a long history of forming partnerships with other companies but they also know when something isn't working and they need to find a new path. This is most apparent in their partnership with Microsoft. It wasn't working so they started working with Google. I have no doubt HTC will continue to make such moves in the future, adjusting to keep on the cutting edge of what is a highly competitive and quickly changing cell phone market.