HTC concedes its Sense UI became too complicated

HTC’s Sense user interface is arguably one of the more successful efforts by a handset manufacturer to customise an operating system. Most smartphone buyers can recognise a HTC device from its distinctive big clock at the top of the homescreen, an example of the brand equity that the interface has developed for the company in recent years, and which has helped it to grow from a white-label manufacturer of devices for other companies, to one of the world’s best known tech brands.

Sense was the successor to the TouchFLO overlay, which debuted on the company’s Windows Mobile devices back in 2007; Sense itself launched in 2009 on both Windows Mobile and the HTC Hero Android handset, and remains the user experience on HTC’s Android devices today. The company has been incrementally improving Sense for the last few years but, as the company itself acknowledges, it soon became too complicated for its own good.

Speaking with Pocket-lint, HTC’s chief product officer, Kouji Kodera, was very open about this: “From the original Sense up to Sense 3.5, we added too many things. The original concept was that it had to be simple and it had to be easy to use, and we had that philosophy, but over time it got cluttered.”

Indeed, the early builds of Sense were a breath of fresh air. While Android (and Windows Mobile for that matter) suffered from weak user interface design, Sense made it much easier for users to find what they wanted, exposing functionality and features in the OS that would otherwise have been much more difficult to find. As the stock Android UI improved – and as rivals developed their own custom UIs, such as Samsung’s TouchWiz and Motorola’s MOTOBLUR – HTC found itself stuffing Sense with more and more features in order to make its offering more distinctive – but this didn’t work out as hoped.

Kodera went on: “There were too many things in there. Even on the home screen we had four or five icons before consumers got a chance to add things themselves.” But all is not lost. With HTC’s new generation of handsets, the company is launching a new version of its UI – Sense 4.0 – and Kodera promises that HTC has learned from its mistakes. “For the [just-launched] HTC One range, we have taken it down to Sense 2.0. What we’ve done is a good mixture of keeping Sense and Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich element in a good balance.”

HTC acknowledged in January that, following a 25% decline in its quarterly profits, it would dramatically reduce its product line-up, “focusing on what made us great”, in the worlds of HTC UK's Phil Roberson. The new Sense UI seems like a confident step in the right direction – but time will tell if measures such as these will yield the results that HTC is hoping for.

Image via HTC

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33 Comments

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If only "HTC" and their Sense UI would take advice from AOSP... Also, The amount of bloat that comes with most phones at stock doesn't help the matter.. Which is why I'll always buy a google phone. Sure you can root your phone. But for the people who are not "Tech Savy" it's going to affect them..

If every handset manufacturer stuck with this rule, then we would have no innovation and improvements to phones and phone UIs would cease. Innovation only happens when manufacturers compete; bung them with a default and tell them they're not allowed to try and improve it separately and you are essentially asking all manufacturers to create the same phone.

stereopixels said,
If every handset manufacturer stuck with this rule, then we would have no innovation and improvements to phones and phone UIs would cease. Innovation only happens when manufacturers compete; bung them with a default and tell them they're not allowed to try and improve it separately and you are essentially asking all manufacturers to create the same phone.

Custom UIs on Android are almost universally reviled. And how many phones are running stock ICS? The Galaxy Nexus and ... well that's basically it. If anything, stock android is different.

CentralDogma said,
Custom UIs on Android are almost universally reviled. And how many phones are running stock ICS? The Galaxy Nexus and ... well that's basically it. If anything, stock android is different.
If they're almost universally reviled, why do so few have the stock UI? That logic makes no sense, both from the consumer and producer's perspectives.

Kirkburn said,
If they're almost universally reviled, why do so few have the stock UI? That logic makes no sense, both from the consumer and producer's perspectives.

You'd have to ask the manufactures. The bundled software probably helps bring in some revenue and appease the networks. There's also the notion, like stereopixels pointed out, that it makes the phones distinctive.

The manufacturer UIs have nothing to do with the networks. They include no network stuff. It wouldn't make sense anyway, as the UIs are worldwide, and networks are not.

Yeah, it distinguishes them more: but that's neither positive nor negative.

Kirkburn said,
The manufacturer UIs have nothing to do with the networks. They include no network stuff. It wouldn't make sense anyway, as the UIs are worldwide, and networks are not.

You've never seen carrier value-adds on a smart phone? Like T-Mobile phones having Myfavs plastered everywhere?

CentralDogma said,
You've never seen carrier value-adds on a smart phone? Like T-Mobile phones having Myfavs plastered everywhere?
Like I said, that's got basically nothing to do with the manufacturer's custom UIs (Sense, TouchWiz, etc.)

Kirkburn said,
Like I said, that's got basically nothing to do with the manufacturer's custom UIs (Sense, TouchWiz, etc.)

That's part of the custom UI...

I never thought of Sense as clutter. In fact, it is my favorite Android flavor and quite attractive on my Evo tablet.

CMG_90 said,
All I cam say is.if.you hate sense that much root or don't.buy a HTC phone.

Yeah that's a great business model: Buy our stuff but if you don't like our stuff get it elsewhere. I wonder how many successful businesses have existed that follow such a childlish model.

Always have a lot of time for companies who can hold their hands up and say "Yep.. we got it wrong, and this is what we're doing to fix it..".

This is exactly the kind of differentiation OEMs should be working on. HTC is doing it right. I suspect that Sense 4.0 and the HTC One will be a big hit.

xSuRgEx said,
what excatly is it about sence that people do not like?

Too many animations get in the way of actually using the phone. For example, unlocking the phone to the desktop whizzing around in a whirlwind to actually being able to touch an icon takes too long.

Plus it's ugly.

dotslash said,

Too many animations get in the way of actually using the phone. For example, unlocking the phone to the desktop whizzing around in a whirlwind to actually being able to touch an icon takes too long.
Plus it's ugly.

Well, turn the animation off then ... I have, and Sense is a lot better than the standard Android UI, little things like scrolling through numbers instead of stabbing a plus/minus icon for changing alarm clock times etc.

dotslash said,

For example, unlocking the phone to the desktop whizzing around in a whirlwind to actually being able to touch an icon takes too long.

I'm sure my Desire didn't do this?

Exosphere said,

Well, turn the animation off then ... I have, and Sense is a lot better than the standard Android UI, little things like scrolling through numbers instead of stabbing a plus/minus icon for changing alarm clock times etc.
It's not an all or nothing situation. Simply removing the animation from Sense would be the obvious answer to that.

Mr Spoon said,

I'm sure my Desire didn't do this?
There are different versions of Sense.

dotslash said,

Too many animations get in the way of actually using the phone. For example, unlocking the phone to the desktop whizzing around in a whirlwind to actually being able to touch an icon takes too long.

Plus it's ugly.

to many animatons? if you are talking about the weather animation you do realise you can turn it off or remove it all together so it dosnt animate when you unlock.
and as for "wizzing around lke a whirlwind", i didnt see many people complane when apple did the "make a circle" to unlock the ipods

why dont you use a pattern or pin code to unlock the phone insted of picking holes in sence.

The one thing I hated about my HTC Desire was Sense. Luckily the device had lots of ROM's to choose from. Sadly none of them made the Android experience much better.

No need for crappy third party UIs since the release of Ice Cream Sandwich. If they opted for a very light customization of ICS (because they seem to love creating their customizations, you gotta give them a bit of room to move) it would be fantastic. The easiest to use Android phone right now is not the HTC One X or the Galaxy S2 it is the Galaxy Nexus because of its untouched UI.

There's always room for customized interfaces. That's how ideas spread around and get real world feedback.

There's simply no denying that parts of the user experience in environments like Sense, Blur, and TouchWiz inspired functionality that eventually became a part of AOSP.

Even now, probably the single most demanded feature in contact managers on Android is Samsung's swipe-to-call and swipe-to-text. TouchWiz's framework, despite the hate framework additions get, came with functionality improvements that AOSP pales in comparison with. HTC's Sense set the standard for how widgets should look and behave for most of Android's existence, while Motoblur (I believe) showed us the handiness of resizable widgets and swipe-away notifications.

Anyone who would ever say that we should just do away with vendor GUIs and stick to stock Android because it's good enough now have (a) no appreciation for the work it took to bring Android to this point and (b) no understanding of how software evolves in the first place.

In the right direction..... making sense simple is good and hoping to see that in 4.0 sense...
They have released incredible HTC one devices

still1 said,
In the right direction..... making sense simple is good and hoping to see that in 4.0 sense...
They have released incredible HTC one devices
This is why I loved Sense 1.0 on my Droid Incredible. It was just simple, and non-obtrusive.