HTC has big plans for innovation starting with the U Play and U Ultra

But how do you make a smartphone smarter?

The HTC U Play and U Ultra have been launched in Southeast Asia, and while they’re certainly beautiful, do they stand out amidst the current deluge of smartphones?

Both phones in the U series are undeniably pretty, encased in shimmery “liquid” glass that has an iridescent quality, making the colours — Brilliant Black, Cosmetic Pink, Ice White, Sapphire Blue — look different under varying lights.

The main difference between the two phones is that the 5.7in U Ultra comes with a second screen situated above the main panel, that’s used for shortcuts to apps and notifications. It’s powered by a Snapdragon 821 processor and 4GB RAM that handles everything from graphically-demanding games to multitasking with ease. The U Ultra will be available on 25 February and will cost S$898

If you balked at the price or don’t need something quite so large, the middling U Play comes with a 5.2in 1080p LCD screen, 16MP main camera with optical image stabilisation, BoomSound speakers, and runs on a MediaTek Helo P10 processor. The U Play costs S$598 and will be available in early March.

Machine learning the future for HTC

But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the U series is the introduction of Sense Companion — an AI-based software that is supposed to smarten up how your phone works on a day-to-day basis.

It supposedly predicts your actions and adjusts features on your phone accordingly. For example, if it realises that you’re going to need more battery to get through the day, it will shut down nonessential apps to conserve power.

According to HTC Corporation’s President of Smartphone and Connected Devices Business, Chia-Lin Chang, the industry is ripe for disruption, “Are you able to combine mobility, productivity and entertainment altogether? Are you able to combine those into immersive mobile virtual reality or augmented reality? And on top of that, have great design and really be a great help for consumers? These are the solutions we’re working on.”

A mobile device that transcends the smartphone

“I feel that the next step for mobile devices may not be smartphones at all. I think AI will remain in power, but if you allow me to guess, it will come in a different form factor. And I also think it will serve different purposes, in combination with other IoTs” said Chang, referring to Internet-enabled objects and devices.

It wouldn’t just be about improving existing specs and lowering the price of smartphones either, because that isn’t sustainable according to Chang, “If it’s just incremental improvements like a better camera or faster speed, it’s going to be difficult, and we can sense that strongly.”

He also talked about the implementation of VR, hinting that HTC has “something interesting in the pipeline for combining mobility with virtual reality that will be launched in the second half of the year.”

Ultimately, HTC plans to lead the mobile market by redesigning traditional devices and paving the way forward with machine learning. As Chang surmised with the example of fitness trackers, “I think we need to elevate the traditional wearable for checking steps and measuring heart rate. It needs to have a different form factor, be very immersive into your life, and AI needs to empower it. Those are the things I think would be quite key.”