During a press event held yesterday in New York, Microsoft and HTC jointly unveiled its entry in the forthcoming Windows Phone 8 launch cycle in the HTC 8 series, consisting of the high-end 8X and the midrange 8S. Both phones will launch on AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon in November while Sprint were conspicuously absent from the carrier listing, suggesting that the carrier passed on offering Windows Phone devices after the tepid reception to the HTC Arrive failed to meet internal sales expectations.
The HTC 8 Series: 8X and 8S
The 8X is the flagship Windows Phone device for HTC this holiday season, featuring a 4.3-inch 720p HD (1280 x 720) touch display with a Gorilla Glass 2 coating along with a newly designed polycarbonate bodyshell in multiple color choices, 4G LTE (in the U.S.) a 1.5 GHz dual-core Qualcomm S4 processor, 16GB fixed internal flash storage, NFC support, 8.0 megapixel main camera with backside illumination, f/2.0 lens, HTC ImageChip hardware acceleration and a 2.0 megapixel front facing camera with wide-angle lens.
The 8X also features Beats Audio integration including a unique to HTC 4-volt amplifier for improved sound quality when viewing or listening to media. Like the Nokia Lumia 920, while the new chassis spec for Windows Phone 8 allows for internal flash memory and an external microSD slot, the 8X omits the memory card slot for aesthetic reasons and the battery is a sealed 2200mAh unit.
The 8S is the lower-cost mid-range model in the new line and features the specs and hardware to position it as either a low-cost or free after rebate option with a 1 GHz dual-core Qualcomm S4 processor, 4-inch touch display, 4GB of internal storage plus a microSD memory card slot, 5.0 megapixel camera with HTC ImageChip hardware acceleration, Beats audio support without the additional hardware amplifier and Gorilla Glass front. Like the 8X, it will be available in four color combinations, though AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon have yet to confirm if they will be releasing it along with the 8X.
Sprint and Windows Phone: Past Failure Leaves it Out
With Sprint being absent from the Windows Phone 8 launch with the new HTC 8 line, it’s clear that the carrier is not interested in offering anymore Windows Phone devices for the foreseeable future after it was one of the initial launch partners for the then new Windows Phone 7 platform in November 2010 with the HTC Arrive, a phone that found itself quickly relegated to castoff status within a year of its release and is frequently found on MVNO partner lineups, complete with Sprint packaging and branding, a testament to its poor overall sales for the carrier.
While Sprint cannot be blamed completely for the lack of success with the Arrive, multiple factors outside of its direct control added up to its eventual failure, such as poor marketing of availability. For what it’s worth, the Arrive has been updated with all of the necessary updates that are currently available for the moribund Windows Phone 7 platform, but what remains to be seen is whether it will be updated to Windows Mobile 7.8 before it becomes another footnote in an increasingly long line of sales failures for Sprint.
Microsoft and HTC: Forging Stronger Bonds at Nokia’s Expense
Another key to the HTC 8 series announcement yesterday was the presence of key Microsoft executives during the press event, including CEO Steve Ballmer.While it’s well-known that HTC started life as a Windows Mobile ODM performing contract work for other companies. the company took the bold step of becoming its own fully fledged brand with its own hardware lineup in 2008, beginning with Windows Mobile 6.x models, then diversifying with its first Android phones later that year.
For Microsoft’s top brass to make its presence felt during an HTC event may mean that Nokia is no longer the flagship torchbearer for the Windows Phone platform, despite Microsoft’s significant investment in the company over the past year and a half and may signal a change in the way the platform is handled going forward, since Nokia’s fortunes have taken a drastic turn for the worse ever since the landmark decision to abandon its own platforms in 2011 for Windows Phone resulted in customer and retailer backlash, from which it has yet to recover.
The backlash compounded itself with poor sales of its initial Lumia series, only to make them even worse and even imitated the former Osborne computer company when it was confirmed that the first-generation Lumia series would not be updated to Windows Phone 8, including the LTE-powered Lumia 900, a device that suffered greatly from a botched Easter weekend launch this past April on AT&T and left many who signed up with a 2 year agreement with a bad taste in their mouth after the confirmation of no Windows 8 updates.
The Short-Term Outlook on Windows Phone 8
With HTC and Microsoft reinforcing their previously strained ties, it’s clear that Microsoft is doing whatever it can to make sure that Windows Phone 8 is not a repeat of the failure that was 7. However, if it’s willing to turn its back on Nokia to do so when all signs and evidence pointed to it being the flagship Windows Phone manufacturer at the outset, the issues with Windows Phone may run even deeper than first thought beyond the launch delays for the new developer SDK and the hardware.
One thing’s for sure: Microsoft can’t afford to tell people to hurry up and wait with Windows Phone 8, especially with the iPhone 5 launching tomorrow and expected to break sales records from the previous 4S model. By delaying the launch to mid-November, Microsoft has already given up on being anything but a solid third-place in the new smartphone landscape next to the iPhone and Android, despite all of its pronouncements to the contrary towards developers and press.