HTC's Monday morning press conference last week at MWC ended with a Q&A session. The company had just launched two sexy new phones chock full of industrial design refinements, practical new features, and some very cool updates to their Windows Mobile-based TouchFlo 3D user interface. The entire dog and pony show, as it were, was about Windows Mobile: two new devices running WM 6.1, ready to be upgraded to WM 6.5, and featuring a refined version of HTC's TouchFlo 3D, a WinMo-only custom UI.
So, of course, Sascha Seagan of PC Magazine opened the Q&A with a no-holds barred salvo wondering where HTC's next Android device was and why they hadn't even mentioned Android during the presser. I love that guy. I mean that taking nothing away from HTC's two new WinMo devices - both Touch Diamond2 and Touch Pro2 impressed me, and underscored the company's ongoing commitment to making Windows Mobile phones as easy to use - and easy on the eye - as possible. But we all wanted to know where the next Android phone was hiding, and Sascha cut to the quick for everyone in the room wearing a Media or Analyst name tag.
The vibe around the grounds of Fira de Barcelona on Day One of MWC '09 was that Microsoft had bullied Google out of the show by flexing their industry-wide muscles to keep the focus on WinMo 6.5 and MS' new cloud-based mobile services, and away from that pesky upstart from Silicon Valley and its mobile OS with that funny robot name. Google? Android? The "G2"? Didn't hear a peep about on Monday - except, that is, if you ignored the show and read the tech blogs, all of whom starting running the same story about a Tuesday presser Vodafone had scheduled.
Sure enough, come Tuesday at noon, Vodafone's pavilion was packed to the gills with those same Media and Analyst types, and we were treated to Magic. Literally, I mean: the new Android phone is the HTC Magic, and it more or less looks like a T-Mobile G1 minus the QWERTY board. Magic sports a touchscreen/trackball/buttons layout similar to G1's, but eschews the G1's sliding display/hidden thumbboard design in favor of an all-touch approach. Which means it needs an onscreen touch-QWERTY system, which means it needed to run the latest rev. of Android, the infamous "Cupcake" build that everyone keeps asking me when T-Mobile USA is going to push out to G1 owners.
Suddenly nobody seemed to care much about Microsoft. Europeans wanted to know which countries Magic would be available in and when Vodafone's exclusive on the device would run out. Americans wanted to know if this was the G2/"Sapphire" phone they'd been reading rumors about, and when it would come to T-Mo in the States. (For what it's worth, there seems to be a chance that T-Mo and HTC have something entirely different cooked up for the US market, and are managing to keep it a closely held secret for the time being).
The funny thing about all of this is that Magic, unlike HTC's two new Touches, is kind of an odd-looking phone. Like I said, it looks like a G1 minus the bottom layer (but done up in white). Vodafone's hardware buttons are a bit different than T-Mo's, but otherwise it's a very similar look. I didn't much care for G1's industrial design when it launched and I don't much care for Magic's now, but it's great to see a slimmer, QWERTY-less Android option. Actually, it's just great to see another Android option, period.
Vodafone and HTC execs made two things clear about Magic: First, they DO NOT want you calling it "G2." Second, there are no announced plans to bring the device to North America. Google, like Apple - and unlike most of the other major handset makers, is an American country - so I'm guessing they're pushing HTC and the other Android phone makers to launch the cool new stuff in the US first, and then let it trickle out to the rest of the world. Magic - a slightly different but not really "all new" device - makes sense as a European-only launch: Google gives Vodafone "the new Googlephone" as an exclusive, which makes Voda happy, but HTC makes the device evolutionary, and not revolutionary, as compared to G1.
Which begs the question What might Google and HTC have up their sleeves for the next US-bound Android device launch? Three points before I try to answer that: 1. The rumored T-Mo-bound G2/Sapphire device that was leaked around the Web looked and sounded an awful like what turned out to be Magic, which HTC and Voda assured us is NOT headed to North America; 2) T-Mo has been working really hard to put an end to leaks; 3) A little birdy I ran into after the press conference Tuesday was all excited and chirping a happy song. When I asked her "Why so happy?" she flew away, landed on the HTC building for a second, and then made a bee line for T-Mobile's pavilion. I swear when she landed again she looked back at me and winked.
UPDATE: Photos of a T-Mobile USA-branded HTC Magic have hit the Web. Not sure what to make of this, and everything you just read could be nullified by said T-Mo bound Magic. But I'm still hoping I'm right, and I've got one source in a position to know who told me "the next T-Mo Android phone is NOT what everyone's expecting." Though he could be diverting me on purpose. Hopefully all will be revealed soon, right?