HTC CIO Challenges iPhone to a Type-Off

On the day of the big Diamond reveal, LAPTOP had a chance to sit down with Horace Luke, the chief innovation officer at HTC and the man who headed up the design of the company’s new touchscreen phone. The biggest point Luke wanted to convey was that, unlike other phones such as the iPhone and the BlackBerry, the Diamond was meant to be used with just one hand. “The world only knows a certain size of object when walking, such as a deck of cards, a pack of cigarettes, or a wallet,” he said. “Any larger, and this wouldn’t be a one-handed device. It should be able to fit in your pocket as you walk down the street, and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed by it. Just like your watch or your shoes, a phone should reflect who you are.” Asked about the Diamond’s lack of a full-screen touchscreen, Luke noted that it helps, especially while browsing the Web, as users will be less likely to make a navigation error. “You can zoom in and out of a Web site without falsely clicking on a link,” he said, using the small circular touch area below the screen. “I think it’s a nice balance between reading your content and not messing with it.” One of the key features of the Diamond is its keyboard, which was a direct result of HTC’s experience with the Touch. It was the first thing that Luke mentioned when asked about lessons learned from HTC’s earlier touchscreen device. “I did a lot of usability tests with the 20-key QWERTY keyboard,” he said. Commenting on the fact that it looks remarkably similar to the BlackBerry Pearl’s keypad, Luke conceded that the idea started from that theme but went further by allowing users to lock the symbol key and making the keyboard light to the touch. Luke was nothing but deferential when it was pointed out—and probably not for the first time—that people would be comparing this device to the iPhone. “To be compared to Apple is an honor in some ways,” he said. “But I bet I can type faster than [on] the iPhone.” With that, he challenged a reporter with an iPhone to a type-off. Ironically enough, Luke started using two hands to type a message before it was pointed out to him that he’d been touting the one-handed aspects of this phone. He then switched to one hand, and while it seemed like he still won, the results were somewhat inconclusive. When asked about the Diamond’s lack of an SD Card slot, Luke said that it was a conscious decision in order to keep the size of the phone the way it was. “It’s not really a compromise,” he said, comparing it to the fact that the phone’s camera also lacks a flash—a feature that also won’t be missed due to the general lack of quality in phone-based camera flashes. “When you connect it to a computer, you can also use the phone as a mass-storage device, and drag and drop your photos and videos, and when you unplug it, the phone will automatically update the photo and video libraries.” Luke also noted some of the design touches in the Diamond that would generally go unnoticed by a user, but are those “little innovations that make all the difference,” he said. Withdrawing the stylus from the phone, the Diamond’s screen automatically turned on. A small magnet in the phone helps keep the metal stylus from falling out accidentally. One of the smartest features, though, will be appreciated by anyone who’s been interrupted in a meeting by a call. Rather than having to push a button to turn off the Diamond’s ringer, Luke simply turned it over, so its face was facing down. That’s it. (That also may help explain why the back of the phone has a number of unique faceted edges, making it all the more iconic when not in use.) “Instead of pushing a bunch of buttons, you merely turn it over,” said Luke. “That’s a polite gesture.”

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