HTC debuts Flyer Android tablet, launches Facebook integrated phones

BARCELONA, Spain--HTC became the latest device maker to introduce a challenger to Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad. The company unveiled its 7-inch Android-based Flyer tablet that features the company's Sense UI along with other content and services in hopes that it will break out from the rest of the tablet pack.

Click here for HTC's Mobile World Congress phones flyerAt its press conference here at the Mobile World Congress trade show, HTC introduced the Flyer tablet, as well as two phones with deep Facebook integration and three new smartphones running Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform. The Taiwanese smartphone company--which had nearly 25 million unit sales last year, according to research firm Gartner--said it expects to differentiate itself from its competitors in the tablet market largely through its user experience.

HTC CEO Peter Chou said this year the company will offer a new version of its HTC Sense to so-called "superphones" as well as versions for different form factors, including phones with Qwerty keyboards. He also noted that this week HTC will begin shipping its LTE Thunderbolt smartphone through Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ).

The Flyer runs a new version of Android, 2.4, and features a 1.5 GHz processor, 7-inch screen with 1024x600 resolution, HSPA connectivity with a peak downlink speed of 14.4 Mbps, 5-megapixel camera and 1.3-megapixel  front-facing camera for video chatting and 32 GB of internal storage.

HTC said that the Android version running on the Flyer is virtually indistinguishable to users from Android 2.3, or Gingerbread, according to Engadget. HTC emphasized that it did not have enough time with the Android 3.0 source-code to add Sense to it; that version, dubbed Honeycomb, is optimized for tablets. However, HTC also said that Sense will be the main focus of the Flyer experience, including a new rotating 3D user interface. HTC said that the device will be upgraded to Honeycomb shortly after the launch. "We wanted to make sure that the launch experience was as good or better than the what you could get on Honeycomb or anything else"  HTC Americas Region President Jason Mackenzie said in an interview with FierceWireless.

Chou said one of the main selling points of the Flyer is HTC's Scribe technology. The tablet comes with a pen and has e-ink technology throughout the UI design, allowing users to write notes via their own handwriting. For instance users can write on a web page and share that page with friends. Another feature called Timemark enables users to capture the audio of a meeting in line with their written notes, so that tapping on a word in the notes instantly takes the user back to that exact place in time in the audio recording of the meeting. Additionally, notes are integrated with the Flyer's calendar so when there is an appointment reminder users are automatically prompted with an opportunity to begin a new note. The Flyer also features built-in synchronization with Evernote. HTC said the tablet will be available globally in the second quarter; the company did not mention pricing or carrier partners.

In the interview, Mackenzie said HTC redesigned its Sense UI for the tablet form factor. He also said HTC will leverage its recent content investments for the tablet. HTC made a strategic investment in a cloud-based content delivery company called Saffron Digital, whose proprietary technologies include support for multi-device media delivery as well as encoding and domain-based DRM protection. HTC will use that technology for a new service called HTC Watch, which will enable low-cost, on-demand progressive downloading of hundreds of HD movies from major studios. Further, HTC will use OnLive's cloud-based gaming service. 

Mackenzie said that although HTC thinks the Flyer will appeal to enterprise users, the line between strictly consumer products and enterprise devices is rapidly blurring. "The pen will be a valuable experience that will resonate with every consumer, because it's always more comfortable to pick that thing up and actually be able to write," he said.

In addition to the Flyer, HTC also unveiled two phones--the ChaCha and Salsa--that have deep integration with Facebook services. Both devices have a dedicated Facebook hard button, which provides one-touch access to the key functions of Facebook that are integrated throughout the HTC Sense experience. With a single press of the button, users can update their status, upload a photo, share a website, post what song they are listening to, or check in to a location. Both phones will be available globally in the second quarter. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made an appearance during HTC's press conference and said there will be "dozens" of phones on the market this year that feature deep Facebook integration.

The HTC ChaCha has a tilt design that shapes the display and a physical Qwerty keyboard. The phone has a 2.6-inch touchscreen and a 5-megapixel camera and front-facing VGA camera. The Salsa has a 3.4-inch touchscreen display, 5-megapixel camera and front-facing VGA camera.

Finally, HTC released three new Android phones, sequels to its popular Desire, Incredible and Wildfire lines. The Desire S has an aluminum unibody shell, 1 GHz Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) Snapdragon processor, a 3.7-inch WVGA display, 5-megapixel camera and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. The Incredible S has a 1 GHz processor, a 4-inch screen and 8-megapixel camera capable of recording 720p video and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. The Wildfire S is one of HTC's smallest phones ever, measuring just 10.13cm long and 5.94cm wide, and boasts a 600 MHz processor and a 3.2 inch HVGA display. The Incredible S will launch with Android 2.2; the Wildfire S will launch with Android 2.3; and the Desire S will launch with Android 2.4, according to Engadget. The phones will be available in European and Asian markets in the second quarter.

For more:
- see these device pictures
- see this HTC Flyer release
- see this HTC Facebook phones release
- see this HTC Android phones release
- see this Engadget post
- see this Engadget post

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