HTC Sense Pushes Minimalism too far

Problem

HTC has customised the standard Android user interface with its proprietary product called Sense. This probably gives a competitive edge to HTC products, but it also introduces a level of independence from mainstream standards to HTC designers. This is powerful, but as I always say “with power comes corruption” and this one is no exception. Being the proud owner of various top HTC phones for the past 6 years, I feel disappointed about the recent bold decisions in the design of their flagship product HTC One.

The problem is that HTC designers have decided to remove one of the 3 crucial Android controls from the bottom of the screen. Most android phones have these 3 buttons as seen in the following image:

Image

From left to right they are:

  • Back: goes to the previous screen (or activity in Android programming terminology)
  • Home: returns you back to the home screen where you can see your desktop, widgets and run programs
  • Switch app: allows you to switch between running apps, kinda like ALT+TAB on PC or CMD+TAB on Mac.

Now somehow HTC designers figured out that they can remove the “Switch app” button and make room for their logo instead. The user is expected to double tap the home button in order to switch between apps. By the way the above image is from HTC One X, that is the father of HTC One. So here is how HTC One’s buttons look like:

Image

In the latest HTC phones you are supposed to double tab the home button quickly to be able to switch between apps. That is nothing new. iPhone works exactly the same. However, this has three issues:

  1. This behaviour is not consistent with other Android phones
  2. This introduces a mapping issue where two irrelevant actions are mapped to one control
  3. After 4 months of using this phone I still haven’t got used to double-tapping the right bottom corner of my phone so often so I have to use two hands (and have dropped the phone enough to justify spending 200 SEK on a protective shell)

Solution

The obvious solution is to return the Switch app button. There is a reason it was there, and let’s face it, removing a button to open up space for the logo isn’t the best way to keep the customers happy. Nor is it the best example of minimalist design.

Another solution would be to have the “Home” functionality when the user presses on the HTC logo while the Switch button is back to where it was before. So again we’ll have three buttons but the home button is “covered” with the HTC logo. That is an acceptable for the users. It’s not the best interaction but it’s still better than what we have now.

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