Apparently there’s more to it than gluing a hi-def LCD to a slab of aluminium. Three significant problems had to be solved first — and here’s how HTC tackled them
PROBLEM #1 Android phones don’t feel premium. Even Samsung’s outstanding Galaxy phones and tablets are tainted by a plastic shell.
HTC’S SOLUTION Make a phone with more metal than the floor of a Terminator T-1000’s hair salon. But still make it light and tactile. Like so…
■ DIAMOND-CUT THE METAL. To keep the One looking trim and show off the slick finish on its aluminium unibody HTC has bevelled the edges of the phone. “It helps to reduce the perceived thickness of the sidewall”. “First the whole unibody gets machined off. Next up we treat it with a kind of blasting, to achieve a matt finish. Then we come in with a fine bit and diamond-cut off the chamfers — so you get a secondary finish on the same part.”
■ MICRO-DRILL THE CASE The One’s front-facing BoomSound stereo speakers are among its most recognisable design touches. But loud as they are, the design team kept their presentation refined with a pair of microdrilled speaker grilles in the aluminium casing above and below the screen. “That’s done with a series of machined holes that are very precise”. “They don’t leave any sort of radii on the sides, and they end up looking like a texture rather than a surface change.»
■ USE INJECTION MOULDING The One s aluminium body doubles as the phone’s antenna. “We had to find a way to break the metal in some sections to allow for the antenna technology to work. Yet we also wanted to reduce the number of part breaks.” The solution? Zero-gap injection moulding. “We’re basically melting together the plastic with the metal into one solid unibody, and then machining the entire thing so that we don’t feel any gaps around the part breaks.”
■ STRETCH THE SCREEN The design team wanted to make the HTC One’s display into an ‘endless screen experience’. While it’s not edge-to-edge, a bit of technical jiggery-pokery did enable the screen covering to have the appearance of ‘bleeding’ over the edges while remaining strong.
HTC’s desire to bring Android up to iPhone levels of build quality has worked, albeit at the expense of removable battery or storage. We think the compromise paid off.
PROBLEM #2 People weren’t using the HTC Sense widgets.
HTC’S SOLUTION Invent BlinkFeed, a homescreen that delivers news and notifications.
“Smartphones now bring in so much information and data that it overwhelms the user. Simplest possible design didn’t contribute to that visual clutter. In the past, you dipped into the Twitter app, then the Facebook app, then the Instagram app. We redesigned our homescreen interface around this habit of snacking on content. In the future your phone will learn about you, about your friends, and your behaviour, so that it can become more proactive and always bring you the information that’s most relevant to you.”
BlinkFeed is a stylish way of intermingling social media and actual news. But we’d prefer it if HTC didn’t limit the selection of news outlets to its own partners.
PROBLEM #3 Smartphone cameras have tiny sensors, and are rubbish in low light.
HTC’S SOLUTION Make a sensor with fewer, but bigger, pixels. Call them ‘UltraPixels’.
«When I was working at Kodak, they were releasing point-and-shoot cameras that were worse than the year before — just because retailers such as Dixons wanted to be able to put higher and higher megapixel counts on the sales stickers. What the industry’s known for a long time is that smaller pixels make low light photography harder.»
The HTC One’s solution? UltraPixels. «They’re the largest, most light-sensitive pixels available on a smartphone today. “Comparable, in fact, to those on compact photo enthusiast cameras.» The One’s UltraPixel camera has fewer, larger pixels that capture more light — and also deliver smaller image files.
“By going lightweight on our files, we can process them on the fly». “The distinction between video and stills is starting to disappear.
“Why tax the user with the decision of what format to shoot in? Couldn’t we just shoot both simultaneously?» And so HTC Zoe, which takes 20 images and three seconds of video with a single button press, was born.
The camera’s placement proved more troublesome. “A lot of effort was spent placing the imaging components on the central spine, so that we could maximise that depth for the optics module over the sensor while keeping a sleek, sexy profile. It was a risk on our part, but it worked.»
The UltraPixel gamble has partly paid off: the One’s camera is superb in low light, and Zoe means you won’t miss action shots — but stills don’t stand up to being blown-up or zoomed in to as well as those from rivals such as the Galaxy S4.