At Mobile World Congress, HTC and Nokia try hard to cast smartphones as femme fatales--but leave us more bothered than hot.
I may as well have been at a wine tasting, talking ridiculously about delicate bouquets, with hints of currant and chocolate, and a crisp finish. But no, this was a mobile phone press conference (HTC's), where the company's phone designer (Scott Croyle) was talking about perfectly crisp edges and simple surface breaks. We were fed a video about micro-arc oxidation, where the phone's aluminum is bathed in a plasma field, so that it just feels, you know, awesome, like anything bathed in plasma inevitably does.
Just when you think it couldn't get any more absurd, Croyle said (and I am NOT making this up): "We strive for our phones to be human and approachable." After calling the phone "supersexy," he also said that "what matters most is that when somebody picks up an HTC phone, we strike an emotional connection...it's about creating that moment of desire, when you immediately know that this is the one for me."
Who writes this crap? Hallmark?
Am I using the phone to make a call, or having consensual sex with it?
And because design is core to HTC's DNA (a staple phrase of press conferences), according to Croyle, we had to hear ALL about it. Tell me which of these things doesn't make you absolutely crave simply holding the brand-new HTC One (which, incidentally, is 4.7 inches, has a Super LCD display, is powered by an NVidia Tegra 3 quad-core processor, and includes Beats Audio . . . but that's all triviality compared with the phone's haberdashery): the One has a "beautiful crafted polycarbonate unibody;" "we began with seamless construction;" "it has this beautiful piano gloss edge around the perimeter of the phone, and a matte back surface -- it's the intersection of these two textures that creates a crisp surface break;" "the glass curves and flows over the edge." In that last case, oozing, one imagines, like pus from a bad wound.
"We micro-drill the speaker holes to get the smooth edge," Croyle said, and another HTC executive told me that the process involves lasers, presumably operated by hairless virgin monks with purified souls and heartbeats under 30 per minute.
Said Croyle: "When I'm using this phone, I'm always rubbing my finger around the outside surface. It really feels awesome." I'm speechless, slightly uncomfortable, and all I can picture is Mary Katherine Gallagher putting her hands in her armpits in Superstar.
Does it matter that there's a crystalline ceramic metal finish? That the oxidation process is like covering the metal with microscopic lightning bolts "so that the point of interaction is hotter than the surface of the sun?" That the finish is "ultra matte and ultra black," so that it "just sucks up all the light that hits it . . . at the same time it has this soft, feathery feel." Is this a phone or are we getting a little too personal?
All of this talk about taut lines and sophisticated looks has me frazzled. It turns out this announcement was really about a phone with an "amazing camera and authentic sound," according to HTC CEO Peter Chou. "This is the one," he added, implying that the Sensation and Desire were perhaps inaptly named.
But HTC hardly cornered the market on aggrandizement and anthropomorphism at Mobile World Congress. Over at Nokia, CEO Stephen Elop exclaimed: "We have changed the clock speed of Nokia," and then announced a single-core Windows Phone (the Lumia 610) running at a meager 800 MHz. Almost half of Nokia's press conference was spent on a few new ASHA feature phones (where Nokia has fairly broad appeal), about which Mary McDowell, EVP of Mobile Phones, offered: "They look good in your hands."
But those are nothing compared with the Lumia 610, which is, according to Jo Harlow, EVP of Smart Devices, the "perfect introduction of Windows Phone for younger audiences." That's because it has "a very distinctive profile with a finely beveled metallic edge." Ah, the young and their beveled edges.
Because of that, the phone is able to feature "generous curves," although one wonders if those are the kind that flow over edges, or cause someone to incessantly rub their fingers around the phone. Nokia didn't say, and I wished I'd thought to ask.
What Nokia did say was that these curves also come with a "very confident feel," and I honestly felt better about myself just knowing. In fact "the whole phone conveys quality and aspiration," and it all has me wondering whether I can put my weekly therapy sessions comfortably behind me as soon as this phone ships.
With so much piano gloss covering up these press announcements, it's difficult to see these phones for what they are. Forced to think about what they convey, I've lost what it is they do.
No matter. I'm late for my plasma bath.
See more coverage of the new HTC One in the video report below.
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