The HTC One's camera can make or break sales

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| Published: March 11, 2013

Even before the One was announced, we all knew that HTC needed to unveil something that would grab our attention. It needed to be a device that not only did so through hardware, but through software and features as well. “HTC’s on its last legs,” is just one variation of many different negative statements regarding the company that were swirling near the end of 2012. Everything was set to change when the One was announced. But, now that it has been, and as we inch inexorably to its launch, I can’t help but wonder if anything has changed.

Every year, there are a lot of Android phones that make it out to market. HTC is one of the reasons why, in fact. The company is no stranger to launching phone after phone, ranging in sizes and features. One might think that for a phone manufacturer, releasing as many phones as possible is a good idea, but based on HTC’s presence in the market, it obviously isn’t as good as one might expect it to be.

In all honesty, the One X is a great phone. I may not be its biggest fan around, but I understand why so many people loved it. It does feel great in the hand, and the display was amazing for its time. The One, and eventually the One X+, were outstanding devices. HTC had nowhere to go but up, based on those two devices. Their flagship model for 2013, or at least for the first half of 2013, had a lot of expectations waiting for it at the gate.

I think it’s safe to say that HTC met those expectations head on, and came out on the other side no worse for wear. After the One was announced, the press seemed to walk away from the event relatively pleased. Their hands-on time with the device left a lasting impression, but not a negative one. The One’s 4.7-inch 1080p display was noteworthy all on its own, but made better by the industrial, lightweight and comfortable design of the phone itself. This is the best phone HTC has ever designed, and that is saying a lot, considering the company’s track record with outstanding hardware.

The other important feature on the One, outside of software (BlinkFeed!), is the Ultrapixel camera, featuring HTC Zoe. This isn’t a camera that boasts a ridiculously high megapixel count, and then tries to shove it down your throat. No, it’s quite the opposite. There isn’t a megapixel count at all. Instead, HTC just calls it an Ultrapixel camera, and moves on. They are, without a doubt, trying to control the conversation about the One’s camera, and doing so by removing one of the most important parts when it comes to consumers.

Earlier today, I spent some time in a wireless retail location. I was speaking with a few of the sales reps, and they were telling me about how excited they were for the Galaxy S IV announcement in a few days. They were expecting amazing things. So I asked which phones they carried, and they all pulled out their Galaxy S III. Okay, so that makes sense. They’re ready for the “next big thing” from Samsung. But, I wanted to gauge their desire for the One, considering HTC’s phone has already been announced, it’s real, and we know what it features.

They were all impressed with the device itself, and they were excited to get to try it out whenever they could. I brought up the camera, and talked about how the Ultrapixel camera was meant to set a new bar for smartphone photography. That the Ultrapixel camera was something new, without a big focus on megapixel count, but on technology instead.

They all laughed. And then they told me, ceremoniously, that they’d have an easier job selling just about every other phone in that case. I asked them to elaborate, and one of them was quick to point out that consumers still generally point to a bigger megapixel count as being better. More equals better, basically. I said that I agreed with that, more or less, but then suggested that they try to explain the camera to the consumer. Tell them why a higher megapixel count doesn’t’ necessarily mean a better image.

Suffice it to say, they laughed again, and I think that time they were laughing at me. They did suggest that another one of their employees there might take the time to do it, because he was an HTC fan. But, when left up to them, they’d all probably still point to a Galaxy S III, or even an iPhone 5, if the customer was looking for a top-tier photography experience from their smartphone.

The Ultrapixel camera does indeed take great photos, from what I’ve been told by those who are currently using the device. They aren’t disappointed, overall, by the camera at all. I’m looking forward to when I can take it for a whirl, and see how it stands up to a constant barrage of cute from my daughters. I doubt I’ll be disappointed, either. But I think this is going to be a big hurdle for HTC.

Why? Because even if HTC does put a big focus in marketing, especially with a laser focus on the camera, it’s going to be hard to just say, “Hey, fewer megapixels can be a good thing!” and hope that the general public jumps on board. It needs to be shown off. It needs to be experienced. But if a sales rep has to take longer to explain a camera, and why it might be better, or exactly the same as another camera on another phone, I think HTC is leaving quite a bit up to fate.

The Ultrapixel camera on the HTC One is easily one of its strongest features, but it could also be one of its most crippling.

What do you think? Is HTC the company to convince the mass public that megapixels aren’t the most important part of taking a picture? Or will we see Samsung, or even Apple, continue to push a high megapixel count, and still offer up a fantastic photo taking experience? Let me know what you think.

Products mentioned