Touch Diamond: HTC excites with iPhone alternative

Taiwan OEM High Tech Computer (HTC) recently launched its much-anticipated and blogged-about Touch Diamond model.

The Windows Mobile 6.1-powered device combines a 2.8-inch VGA touch screen, HSDPA 7.2, GPS, 4GB storage, a dedicated graphics chip, a variety of sensors, and more. All in a slippery black, stainless steel compact shell.

Own-branded, operator-branded and customized versions of the Touch Diamond will launch in Europe from June. Orange, Vodafone, 3, O2/Telefonica and T-Mobile will all range the device.

Almost without precedent in the world of Windows Mobile devices, Ovum came away from our briefing with HTC believing we'd seen something important. Not just for HTC but for Microsoft too.

Beyond the design and build quality of its hardware, which seems excellent, the outstanding feature of the Touch Diamond is its rich Vibrant TouchFLO 3D user interface, which embraces all the major consumer features of the phone.

This offers many of the dynamic effects and ease of use now expected in high-end, post-iPhone devices. It also submerges the native Windows Mobile UI, except for less frequently used features and applications or for power users.

HTC expects users to spend upwards of 90% of their time within this environment rather than in Windows Mobile's native one. Moreover, most of this use will be finger driven, although a stylus remains for those times when it is needed.

The project has involved considerable software engineering effort that, in addition to the new HTC front-end, features a customized version of the Opera Mobile browser with integrated web widget framework supporting applications such as YouTube. Again, very progressive thinking from HTC.

Overall, we felt the Touch Diamond could become the first Windows Mobile device to reach the market that is desirable as a device in its own right, rather than for its familiarity or for its integration with the Windows desktop.

While details of Sony Ericsson's XPERIA X1 have been public since February, the Touch Diamond could beat the X1 (which is, incidentally, being built by HTC) to market by over six months. The Touch Diamond will also likely find its way into the hands of many more users. The Touch Diamond is clearly a premium product but the X1 has the hallmarks of exclusivity about it. Pricing can be expected to reflect this.

Considerable credit must be given to HTC for this. The company said the Touch Diamond project began more than two years ago, before that of last year's HTC Touch. It has clearly involved considerable effort in software engineering, something the company has not previously undertaken to any great extent (it claims over 200 patents in the device). In hindsight, the original Touch looks like a stop-gap - albeit quite a successful one with more than three million sold - rushed out to take advantage of demand for finger touch devices in the wake of the iPhone's launch.

Credit must also go to Microsoft for enabling its OEM partners more freedom in customising the Windows Mobile experience than ever before. Developments such as these, we believe, will hugely increase the appeal of Windows Mobile devices beyond their established core market of business users.

Still, HTC's decision to adopt Opera Mobile should ring alarm bells in Redmond, following as it does the introduction of a considerably upgraded, but still underpowered, Internet Explorer Mobile.

 

Aligning mobile browser development more closely with that of the desktop is the only answer, we think.

Of course, the Touch Diamond is no iPhone but nor does it want to be. The essence for the end-user is content freedom rather than being bound into a complete service offering. As such it represents a genuine alternative to Apple's poster child and provides a strong sense of where mobile phones can and will go from here.

Tony Cripps, Senior Analyst and Service Manager

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