Battery life is arguably the number one concern when it comes to choosing a smartphone — even the most feature-packed phones are useless if they’ve run out of power. So why does HTC value device thinness more than battery performance?
At Frequencies, a Seattle press event, HTC’s Bjorn Kilburn, vice president of portfolio strategy, stated that the company decided against making phones with high-capacity — and portly — 3000 mAh batteries in favor of making thinner devices.
The result is evidenced by the company’s HTC One S, the thinnest HTC phone yet. It measures in at 7.8 mm and sports a 1650 mAh battery. The upcoming One X features a slightly larger 1800 mAh battery, and is 8.9 mm thick. (For comparison, the iPhone is 9.3mm thick and has a 1432 mAh battery.)
According to Kilburn, HTC’s consumer research shows people prefer thin smartphones — between 8 mm and 10 mm thick — as opposed to thicker devices with longer battery life.
The HTC research would seem to contradict a recent J.D. Power and Associates study that revealed battery performance as one of the most important factors in overall smartphone satisfaction. Notably, users who are “highly satisfied” with their smartphone’s battery performance are more likely to purchase future phones from the same manufacturer than users who are “less satisfied.”
“We’ve seen that with 4G phones — thick or thin, [user satisfaction] really comes down to battery life,” Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates, told Wired. “It’s just going to get more critical as more functionality, which really sucks up battery life, comes to smartphones.”
Wired reached out to HTC for comment, but received no response by press time.
Another point of contention between J.D. Power and Associates’ and HTC’s research concerns phone thickness — specifically, the threshold at which a phone’s thickness becomes too thick, and user satisfaction drops. The cut-off point is 0.55 inches. Anything thicker peeves off consumers, according to the J.D. Power and Associates study. But 0.55 inches is nearly 14 mm — or 4 mm more than HTC’s preferred 10 mm maximum.
Granted, in the crowded Android smartphone space in which HTC mainly sells its wares, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to boldly differentiate one device from the other. So making the thinnest phone around is one way to appeal to consumers, especially because many people judge phones by looks first.
“When people are in the market for a new phone, the first thing they go for is appearance, including thinness and all of the soft attributes,” Parsons said. “But when it really comes down to it, and people start to use their phones on a daily basis, appearance goes away and functionality is more important.”
It seems unlikely — silly, even — that a few millimeters would offset the benefits of having a longer battery life, so Parson’s explanation makes more sense. When you hold the HTC One S in your hand, it feels noticeably thinner than other smartphones, and that can certainly play in the device’s favor when people walk into a T-Mobile or Best Buy looking for a new phone.
But as Parsons notes, it’s not the best long-term strategy. If users are dissatisfied with battery life, they aren’t likely to purchase a phone from the same manufacturer again.
Regardless, it’s not like HTC doesn’t take battery performance seriously. “We spent a lot of time finding other ways [to maximize battery life] than the brute force approach,” Kilburn said, according to PC Magazine.
For example, HTC’s One X’s Super LCD 2 screen is more energy-efficient than AMOLED screens, and the company continues to work on better power management in its software. And compared to the majority of available smartphones, the latest HTC phones have average battery lives.
But average isn’t always good enough — that’s why there’s an entire market for battery packs that make our smartphones last longer, even with heavy use and forgotten charges. So far, Motorola’s Droid Razr Maxx most successfully marries battery performance with device thinness. It has the longest smartphone battery life — lasting 21.5 hours of continuous talk time, according to the company — and is only 8.99mm thick.
“If you have to choose between the two, the majority of people would choose battery performance as opposed to a phone’s thinness,” Parsons states. “On a scale of what’s important, battery performance is much higher than thinness.”