Drew Bamford Speaks Out About HTC’s Sense 5 and Blinkfeed

htc one black backgroundWhenever there’s a smartphone launch in the Android world, there’s often a lot more to talk about than just the hardware. Companies like HTC and Samsung have been altering the way Android looks and feels on their devices for years now and, in the case of HTC they’ve faced a number of problems along the way. A lot of you reading this might remember the Sense of old, which was buggy and very bloated – even Sense 4 didn’t go far enough to cut back on the features that designers had lumped Sense with. Have you created a light version of Sense with Sense 5? Cutting down on the features in Sense 5 wasn’t one of HTC’s main focuses when they went to redesign their skin, it was to solve the problems that Android apparently puts in front of us users.

You’re probably wondering who the hell Drew Bamford is, he’s the Director of User Experience at HTC and he took to HTC’s blog to talk about the new additions and refinements to Sense. It’s a good read, and it doesn’t smack of marketing either which is a nice change. There are some interesting points that Drew makes but, he outlines the main focus of what needed to be tackled with this redesign as the following:

During our research, a few consistent patterns emerged:

  • Most people don’t differentiate between apps and widgets.
  • Widgets aren’t widely used – weather, clock and music are the most used and after that, fewer than 10% of customers use any other widgets.
  • Most of you don’t modify your home screens much. In fact, after the first month of use, approximately 80% of you don’t change your home screens any more.

What did we learn? We needed to dramatically reinvent HTC Sense to meet your actual needs.

I’m not sure I agree with everything Drew has to say there but, it’s fairly true that we don’t often rearrange our homescreens. I might be alone in this but, I’ve been using the same layout on my devices for the last year or more, the same staple widgets – or type of widgets – but, there’s one area of my homescreen I regularly change and that’s the center page. I’m always on the look out for a brilliant wallpaper and some stunning widgets to show off every time I unlock my device. Blinkfeed takes this choice away from me, and it’s almost as if I am forced to have content flood my eyes all the time. While Blinkfeed can be turned off, or toned down as much as you like, it’s HTC’s default and it’s clear that they want to do away with the traditional configuration we’re used to. Also, I’m surprised Drew didn’t mention Twitter, Facebook or Google+ widgets either as being able to flick your Twitter feed on your homescreen never gets old.

Drew goes into quite a bit of detail and perhaps the most interesting quote from his piece is the following:

Our existing home screen, and frankly any home screen you see on a mobile device, is at least loosely based on the desktop experience originated by Xerox in the 1980’s. It was a useful approach to help people transition their physical work environment to something digital.

What he’s talking about here is the mouse as we know it today. You might think that Apple invented the mouse and the GUI we use everyday but, in fact was devised at Xerox, the big wigs at the top wanted nothing to do with it but, Steve Jobs knew better and engaged in some sort of stock swap in order to see the technology. Thus, Apple’s GUI was born. There’s no way the homescreens on our smartphones resemble that sort of graphical interface, I mean if you forget about the very obvious omission of a cursor, widgets offer us a much richer way to get quick access to data and content we want access to. It’s true that we scroll through lists of content in apps and widgets like we always have but, I fail to see how Blinkfeed comes even close to offering a better solution.

Overall, Drew makes some good points and it’s always good to hear from the people behind the scenes, creating this sort of thing but, I don’t think this latest version of Sense has gone nearly far enough. Sense 4 was not a nice experience for me, personally, and I can’t see this new version being much better. HTC have made an admirable effort to take back control of Sense but, I fear the HTC One might have bigger problems than how you look at the weather on your homescreen.

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