Friday, May 18, 2012

HTC Sense is now Senseless

I have long been a fan of HTC's Sense interface. It modernized the Windows Mobile interface and brought useful additional functionality, through proprietary widgets and apps to enhancing the Android experience. But HTC has gone to far with its Sense user interface in the new HTC One X. 

But yesterday I found out the latest version of HTC Sense limits reduces a basic functionality of Android 4.0. In order to accommodate its Sense interfaced it lobotomized the Android 4.0 operating system. Basically, instead of allowing full multi-tasking, only selected apps can run in the background. Even the web browser has to reload the last web page when brought used again even if you are running very few apps. You really have to watch theses videos to see how bad it is.

The Android experience is a fragmented one. With lower end devices, the experience is not always fluid. But when you buy HTC's latest device with its quad core processor and a gig of RAM, you should not expect pauses when switching between apps.

In response to the issue HTC responded to The Verge saying:

HTC is aware of some questions in the enthusiast community about how the HTC One X handles multitasking and memory management for background apps. We value the community's input and are always looking for ways to enhance customers' experience with our devices. That said, right now multitasking is operating normally according to our custom memory management specifications which balance core ICS features with a consistent HTC Sense experience.

HTC responds nonchalantly, as if it is only a small group of enthusiast will notice the issue. The enthusiast community will just replace the stock software with a custom ROM, and be done with it. This really affects the mainstream consumer more. How much this will affect Android Market apps remains to be seen.  Still, this is a very unwelcome fragmentation of the Android platform.

A reader at The Verge, LTRaziel, commented:

So having to reload every app every single time is “normal” to them? What’s the point of having multi-tasking then?
I really cannot put it any better.

Adililyo commenting at Android Central wrote:

open maps, search for a place, get a text, switch to messaging to answer, switch back to maps, all your search results are gone and the app reloads.

another example, open email app, start to write lengthy reply to email, switch to calculator to figure out some numbers for said email response, switch back to email, YOUR ENTIRE MESSAGE IS GONE and the app reloads.

Mobilesyrup poignantly wrote:

More to the point, HTC changed the way that Android manages memory without informing the consumer

HTC should explain if how there new memory management is designed to work and not be satisfied with a saying "multitasking is operating normally according to our custom memory management specifications which balance core ICS features with a consistent HTC Sense experience".

From left to right. A HTC HD2 (Windows Mobile with HTC Sense), HTC Desire HD (Android 2.3 with HTC Sense), HTC Sensation XE (Android 4.0 with HTC Sense) and Samsung Galaxy Nexus (Android 4.0 vanilla). The Ice Cream Sandwich updated Sensation XE does seem to flush background programs faster than the Desire HD on Gingerbread. But nothing as drastic as demonstrated in the video above.  
I am not a big advocate of Google taking control and limiting what manufacturers can do with their devices, but there have to be minimum standards. When Google launched Android 4.0, one of the key features highlighted was multi-tasking. Android 4.0 handles multi-tasking better than previous version of Android.  HTC's decided this feature was less important that their Sense user interface. A third party user interface should add to the functionality of the Android operating system, or if badly done be more clumsy, but should not disable or reduce basic Android functionality.

In the end, if HTC wanted to keep keep the Sense experience, how much would another 512 MB of RAM cost a manufacturer.


  1. Seems like consumer and provider perspective differs on the issue. I guess one way of bringing them your concerns is not to buy the product.

    1. Some consumers may prefer the new memory management system used by HTC of giving more priority to the UI. As a former big fan of Sense, this is the first time I feel it is not worth it. I suspect when I add another phone to the set pictured above, it will be a Nexus phone again.


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