You have to ask yourself whether HTC enjoys floundering. The company was doing so well, with an eye-catching range of appealing new devices that didn’t feel like yesterday’s hardware, along with the promise of a more proactive approach to software and services. Now it has dropped the bomb on HTCSense.com, its web-based hub for smartphones and tablets: after April 30, Sense online syncing of Contacts, Messages, Footprints and Call History will all be wiped out. There’s “renovation” incoming, HTC claims, but it’s hard to think of a much worse way that the company could’ve handled it.
I’ve been a vocal advocate of HTCSense.com in the past, and an equally vocal critic. The cloud service should’ve been the jewel in the company’s crown, a potent value-add to lure in new customers and a compelling reason to upgrade to another HTC handset for existing owners. Instead, after a loud inception and a long fallow period, Sense online shudders to a halt with hardly a whimper.
HTC insiders have been telling me that the company was planning a change to HTCSense.com for some time now. My mentioning the service has become a sort of refrain at every device briefing and product launch: “when will you be doing something with Sense online?” has been my refrain, and their “officially, no comment; unofficially, there are changes afoot” the inevitable answer.
Well, here are the changes, and who would’ve guessed yanking the plug was the best option. With the rise of Apple’s iCloud and HTC’s own struggles to differentiate on hardware alone against the comprehensive component options of, say, Samsung, a decent cloud sync service seems like an obvious thing to have. In fact it’s an advantage we’ve highlighted again and again, but it’s one that HTC has obviously decided it can do without.
Even the way HTC is handling the shutdown rankles. Yes, there’s a download of user-data, but frankly that’s the bare minimum it should be doing. It’s the complete hand-washing of service responsibility that is gobsmackingly awful. “If you would like phone location or backup services for your device,” the open letter to users reads, “please visit Google Play (formerly Android Market) and download an application that best meets your needs.”
That’s it. No suggestions, no “why not try these links” or guidance to safe app choices. No prompted downloads from the on-device HTC appstore, something the company has previous championed as a great way for hand-picked developers to get extra attention. Did HTC decide there was no way it could pick between the range of apps out there or, more likely perhaps, did it simply give up without even searching the Play Market for location and backup services?
HTC promises new “services and value” in the pipeline, but exactly what they are is a poorly-handled mystery. Look at, for instance, the way Apple handled the MobileMe to iCloud transition: it didn’t spend time telling users about what was being taken away, but built enthusiasm about what was going to be added. HTC should’ve taken this opportunity to shout about its new, exciting functionality – especially on the eve of the One X and One S releases – but instead it merely told its loyal supporters that they were losing something.
Perhaps there’s magic ahead. Perhaps HTC has finally decided to do something Loudly Brilliant with OnLive, and Beats Audio, and HTC Watch. Perhaps there’s a MOG-powered cloud jukebox service coming, and user-created multimedia sharing, and more. We wouldn’t know, though, because HTC decided it was better to pull the plug on HTCSense.com before telling us how it was doing something so much better.