VNTANA CEO Ashley Crowder will talk holograms at TechCrunch Sessions: AR/VR

VNTANA CEO Ashley Crowder calls the company’s technology, “the world’s first scalable, affordable and interactive hologram.” The startup’s tech hasn’t certainly wowed crowds in recent recent years.

In 2016, it collaborated with Microsoft on HOLLAGRAM, beaming in a live hologram of MS executives during a HOLLAGRAM for a keynote at HackSC. The company’s technology has also been embraced by Intel. The chipmaker deployed VNTANA’s tech during its own keynote at Computex that same year.

Crowder cofounded the VNTANA in 2012, along with fellow USC grad (and current COO) Ben Conway. Before VNTANA, she worked at Gulfstream, Northrop Grumman and BP, utilizing her experience in manufacturing to help design the new company’s early offerings.

In 2013, the team sent a video of a hacked Kinect to Microsoft, demonstrating how the company’s popular hands-free controller could be used for gesture tracking and control with VNTANA’s holographic images. It was enough to gain the startup a place in Microsoft’s Early Developer and BizSpark programs.

These days, the company is focused on augmented and mixed reality experiences, topics Crowder will discuss at TC Sessions: AR/VR on October 18 at UCLA. The one-day event combines onstage conversations about augmented and virtual reality with in-person demos and networking.

Purchase your Early Bird tickets here for just $99 and you’ll save $100 before prices go up!

Students get a special rate of just $45 when they book here.

Survios President and cofounder Nathan Burba is joining us at TechCrunch Sessions AR/VR

There’s nothing inherently social about VR. In fact, putting on a headset and entering your own world can be a fairly isolating experience. But Survios’ latest offering is looking to turn that truism on its head. Electronauts is designed to deliver a social experience, in which players can create music for their surroundings.

The new title is immersive, but designed to be played in a social setting, like a party. Players inhabit a kind of Tron-like world, remixing tracks by popular acts like Steve Aoki and D.J. Shadow in real-time.

It’s a group experience the company envisions as something similar to Rock Band or Guitar Hero. Electronauts is an impressive title from the California VR studio that also developed the addictive first-person shooter, Raw Data.

Formed in 2013 by a trio of University of Southern California students, Survios is among the most compelling VR studios around. Before co-founding the company, President Nathan Burba served as the director of Project Holodeck, a USC project aimed at creating full-body 360-degree VR experience. The Oculus-based project took its name from Star Trek’s well known virtual experience. 

Since launch, Survios has generated plenty of notice from entertainment big wigs. Back in 2016, the company raised $50 million, in a round led by MGM.

Burba will be joining us at TC Sessions: AR/VR on October 18 at UCLA. The one-day event combines on stage conversations about augmented and virtual reality with in-person demos and networking.

Purchase your Early Bird tickets here for just $99 and you’ll save $100 before prices go up!

Students get a special rate of just $45 when they book here.

Making way for new levels of American innovation

New fifth-generation “5G” network technology will equip the United States with a superior wireless platform unlocking transformative economic potential. However, 5G’s success is contingent on modernizing outdated policy frameworks that dictate infrastructure overhauls and establishing the proper balance of public-private partnerships to encourage investment and deployment.

Most people have heard by now of the coming 5G revolution. Compared to 4G, this next-generation technology will deliver near-instantaneous connection speed, significantly lower latency – meaning near-zero buffer times – and increased connectivity capacity to allow billions of devices and applications to come online and communicate simultaneously and seamlessly.

While 5G is often discussed in future tense, the reality is it’s already here. Its capabilities were displayed earlier this year at the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where Samsung and Intel  class=”m_4430823757643656150MsoHyperlink”>showcased a 5G enabled virtual reality (VR) broadcasting experience to event goers. In addition, multiple U.S. carriers including Verizon, AT&T and Sprint have announced commercial deployments in select markets by the end of 2018, while chipmaker Qualcomm unveiled last month its new 5G millimeter-wave module that outfits smartphones with 5G compatibility.

BARCELONA, SPAIN – 2018/02/26: View of the phone company QUALCOMM technology 5G in the Mobile World Congress.
The Mobile World Congress 2018 is being hosted in Barcelona from 26 February to 1st March. (Photo by Ramon Costa/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

While this commitment from 5G commercial developers is promising, long-term success of 5G is ultimately dependent on addressing two key issues.

The first step is ensuring the right policies are established at the federal, state and municipal levels in the U.S. that will allow the buildout of needed infrastructure, namely “small cells”. This equipment is designed to fit on streetlights, lampposts and buildings. You may not even notice them as you walk by, but they are critical to adding capacity to the network and transmitting wireless activity quickly and reliably. 

In many communities across the U.S., 20th century infrastructure policies are slowing the emergence of bringing next-generation networks and technologies online. Issues including costs per small cell attachment, permitting around public rights-of-way and deadlines on application reviews are all less-than-exciting topics of conversation but act as real threats to achieving timely implementation of 5G according to recent research from Accenture and the 5G Americas organization.

Policymakers can mitigate these setbacks by taking inventory of their own policy frameworks and, where needed, streamlining and modernizing processes. For instance, current small cell permit applications can take upwards of 18 to 24 months to advance through the approval process as a result of needed buy-in from many local commissions, city councils, etc. That’s an incredible amount of time for a community to wait around and ultimately fall behind on next-generation access. As a result, policymakers are beginning to act. 

13 states, including Florida, Ohio, and Texas have already passed bills alleviating some of the local infrastructure hurdles accompanying increased broadband network deployment, including delays and pricing. Additionally, this year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has moved on multiple orders that look to remedy current 5G roadblocks including opening up commercial access to more amounts of needed high-, mid- and low-band spectrum.

The second step is identifying areas in which public and private entities can partner to drive needed capital and resources towards 5G initiatives. These types of collaborations were first made popular in Europe, where we continue to see significant advancement of infrastructure initiatives through combined public-private planning including the European Commission and European ICT industry’s 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership (5G PPP).

The U.S. is increasing its own public-private levels of planning. In 2015, the Obama Administration’s Department of Transportation launched its successful “Smart City Challenge” encouraging planning and funding in U.S. cities around advanced connectivity. More recently, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded New York City a $22.5 million grant through its Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research (PAWR) initiative to create and deploy the first of a series of wireless research hubs focused on 5G-related breakthroughs including high-bandwidth and low-latency data transmission, millimeter wave spectrum, next-generation mobile network architecture, and edge cloud computing integration.

While these efforts should be applauded, it’s important to remember they are merely initial steps. A recent study conducted by CTIA, a leading trade association for the wireless industry, found that the United States remains behind both China and South Korea in 5G development. If other countries beat the U.S. to the punch, which some anticipate is already happening, companies and sectors that require ubiquitous, fast, and seamless connection – like autonomous transportation for example – could migrate, develop, and evolve abroad casting lasting negative impact on U.S. innovation. 

The potential economic gains are also significant. A 2017 Accenture report predicts an additional $275 billion in infrastructure investments from the private sector, resulting in up to 3 million new jobs and a gross domestic product (GDP) increase of $500 billion. That’s just on the infrastructure side alone. On the global scale, we could see as much as $12 trillion in additional economic activity according to discussion at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in January.

Former President John F. Kennedy once said, “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” When it comes to America’s technology evolution, this quote holds especially true. Our nation has led the digital revolution for decades. Now with 5G, we have the opportunity to unlock an entirely new level of innovation that will make our communities safer, more inclusive and more prosperous for all.

StarVR’s One headset flaunts eye-tracking and a double-wide field of view

While the field of VR headsets used to be more or less limited to Oculus and Vive, numerous competitors have sprung up as the technology has matured — and some are out to beat the market leaders at their own game. StarVR’s latest headset brings eye-tracking and a seriously expanded field of view to the game, and the latter especially is a treat to experience.

The company announced the new hardware at SIGGRAPH in Vancouver, where I got to go hands-on and eyes-in with the headset. Before you get too excited, though, keep in mind this set is meant for commercial applications — car showrooms, aircraft simulators, and so on. What that means is it’s going to be expensive and not as polished a user experience as consumer-focused sets.

That said, the improvements present in the StarVR One are significant and immediately obvious. Most important is probably the expanded FOV — 210 degrees horizontal and 130 vertical. That’s nearly twice as wide as the 110 degrees wide that the most popular headsets have, and believe me, it makes a difference. (I haven’t tried the Pimax 8K, which has a similarly wide FOV.)

On Vive and Oculus sets I always had the feeling that I was looking through a hole into the VR world — a large hole, to be sure, but having your peripheral vision be essentially blank made it a bit claustrophobic.

In the StarVR headset, I felt like the virtual environment was actually around me, not just in front of me. I moved my eyes around much more rather than turning my head, with no worries about accidentally gazing at the fuzzy edge of the display. A 90 Hz refresh rate meant things were nice and smooth.

To throw shade at competitors, the demo I played (I was a giant cyber-ape defending a tower) could switch between the full FOV and a simulation of the 110-degree one found in other headsets. I suspect it was slightly exaggerated, but the difference really is clear.

It’s reasonably light and comfortable — no VR headset is really either. But it doesn’t feel as chunky as it looks.

The resolution of the custom AMOLED display is supposedly 5K. But the company declined to specify the actual resolution when I asked. They did, however, proudly proclaim full RGB pixels and 16 million sub-pixels. Let’s do the math:

16 million divided by 3 makes around 5.3 million full pixels. 5K isn’t a real standard, just shorthand for having around 5,000 horizontal pixels between the two displays. Divide 5.3 million by that and you get 1060. Rounding those off to semi-known numbers gives us 2560 pixels (per eye) for the horizontal and 1080 for the vertical resolution.

That doesn’t fit the approximately 16:10 ratio of the field of view, but who knows? Let’s not get too bogged down in unknowns. Resolution isn’t everything — but generally, the more pixels the better.

The other major new inclusion is an eye-tracking system provided by Tobii. We knew eye-tracking in VR was coming; it was demonstrated at CES, and the Fove Kickstarter showed it was at least conceivable to integrate into a headset now-ish.

Unfortunately the demos of eye-tracking were pretty limited (think a heatmap of where you looked on a car) so, being hungry, I skipped them. The promise is good enough for now — eye tracking allows for all kinds of things, including a “foveated rendering” that focuses display power where you’re looking. This too was not being shown, however, and it strikes me that it is likely phenomenally difficult to pull off well — so it may be a while before we see a good demo of it.

One small but welcome improvement that eye-tracking also enables is automatic detection of intrapupillary distance, or IPD — it’s different for everyone and can be important to rendering the image correctly. One less thing to worry about.

The StarVR One is compatible with SteamVR tracking, or you can get the XT version and build your own optical tracking rig — that’s for the commercial providers for whom it’s an option.

Although this headset will be going to high-end commercial types, you can bet that the wide FOV and eye tracking in it will be standard in the next generation of consumer devices. Having tried most of the other headsets, I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t want to go back to some of them after having experienced this one. VR is still a long way off from convincing me it’s worthwhile, but major improvements like these definitely help.

Can Electronauts help make VR more social?

Virtual reality is an isolating experience. You power it up, strap the headset on and just sort of drift off into your own world. But maybe that doesn’t have to be the case. Maybe there’s a way to slip into a virtual world and still interact with your surroundings.

Electronauts presents an interesting example. Survios sees the title as a party game — something akin to what Guitar Hero/Rock Band was at the height of their collective powers, when people would set them up in their living room and invite friends over to play.

The new title has one decided advantage over those older games, however: It’s impossible to hit a wrong note. That’s kind of the whole point, in fact. Unlike the gamification of Guitar Hero/Rock Band, Electronauts is more experiential, designed to create remixes of songs on the fly.

I played a near final version of the title at a private demo in New York the other week, and mostly enjoyed the experience — my own personal hang-ups about doing VR in front of a room full of strangers aside. The experience has a very Daft Punk/Tron vibe to it as you operate a spaceship control while hurtling through psychedelic space.

There are several ways to interact with the basic track in the process, using the Vive or Oculus controller. The more complex tasks take some figuring out — I was lucky and happened to have the game’s creators in the room with me at the time. I suppose not everyone has that luxury, but the good news here is that the title is designed so that, regardless of what you do, you can’t really mess it up.

I can see how that might be tiresome for some. Again, there’s no scoring built into the title, so while it can be collaborative, you don’t actually compete against anyone. The idea is just to, well, make music. Hooked up to a big screen and a home theater speaker system, it’s easy to see how it could add an extra dimension to a home gathering, assuming, of course, the music selection is your cup of tea.

Here’s the full rundown of songs [deep breath]

  • The Chainsmokers – Roses (ft. ROZES)

  • ODESZA – Say My Name (ft. Zyra)

  • Steve Aoki & Boehm – Back 2 You (ft. WALK THE MOON)

  • Tiesto & John Christian – I Like It Loud (ft. Marshall Masters & The Ultimate MC)

  • ZHU & Tame Impala – My Life

  • ZHU & NERO – Dreams

  • ZHU – Intoxicate

  • 12th Planet – Let Me Help You (ft. Taylr Renee)

  • Netsky – Nobody

  • Dada Life – B Side Boogie, Higher Than The Sun, We Want Your Soul

  • Keys N Krates – Dum Dee Dum [Dim Mak Records]

  • Krewella & Yellow Claw – New World (ft. Vava)

  • Krewella – Alibi

  • Amp Live & Del The Funky Homosapien – Get Some of Dis

  • DJ Shadow – Bergshrund (ft. Nils Frahm)

  • 3LAU – Touch (ft. Carly Paige)

  • Machinedrum – Angel Speak (ft. Melo-X), Do It 4 U (ft. Dawn Richard)

  • People Under The Stairs – Feels Good

  • Tipper – Lattice

  • TOKiMONSTA – Don’t Call Me (ft. Yuna), I Wish I Could (ft. Selah Sue)

  • Reid Speed & Frank Royal – Get Wet

  • AHEE – Liftoff

  • BIJOU – Gotta Shine (ft. Germ) [Dim Mak Records]

  • Anevo – Can’t Stop (ft. Heather Sommer) [Dim Mak Records]

  • KRANE & QUIX – Next World [Dim Mak Records]

  • B-Sides & SWAGE – On The Floor [Dim Mak Records]

  • Gerald Le Funk vs. Subshock & Evangelos – 2BAE [Dim Mak Records]

  • Max Styler – Heartache (Taiki Nulight Remix), All Your Love [Dim Mak Records]

  • Riot Ten & Sirenz – Scream! [Dim Mak Records]

  • Fawks – Say You Like It (ft. Medicienne) [Dim Mak Records]

  • Taiki Nulight – Savvy [Dim Mak Records]

  • Jovian – ERRBODY

  • Madnap – Heat

  • MIKNNA – Trinity Ave, Us

  • 5AM – Peel Back (ft. Wax Future)

  • Jamie Prado & Gregory Doveman – Young (Club Mix)

  • Coral Fusion – Klip [Survios original]

  • GOODHENRY – Wonder Wobble [Survios original]

  • Starbuck – Mist [Survios original]

Can’t say I go in for most of those, but I can pick out a handful I wouldn’t mind sticking in rotation — Del the Funky Homosapien, DJ Shadow and the People Under the Stars, for instance. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see additional music packs arriving, as the company secures more licensing deals.

Meantime, Electronauts will be available on Steam for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, priced at $20. The PlayStation version will run $18. For those who want an even more public experience, it will be arriving in Survios’ 38 VR Arcade Network location.

Google snags Sony’s ‘Magic Lab’ VR guru

Google has hired Richard Marks, Sony’s Magic Lab head who was behind much of the company’s VR efforts, to a position in its Advanced Technology and Projects group, VentureBeat reports.

Google confirmed the hire to TechCrunch, sending along a statement from ATAP head Dan Kaufman. “ATAP is at the intersection of science and application where our goal is to solve significant problems and close the gap between what if and what is. We’re super excited about Richard joining the senior team and look forward to his contributions.”

According to LinkedIn, Marks spent the last 19 years at Sony, including time as a research fellow while getting his doctorate at Stanford. Marks has been the public face of Sony’s virtual reality efforts throughout the development of the company’s virtual reality tech, but has also worked on some of the computer vision tech behind other PlayStation products.

The Magic Lab, which Marks ran, was devoted to researching gaming technologies for future generation hardware and software. One of the big projects to emerge from the group was called “Project Morpheus,” a precursor for what would later be called PlayStation VR.

While Sony was quick to express an interest in virtual reality technologies and publicly debut its experiments with PS VR years before its 2016 launch, the technology platform has been facing an uncertain future as headset sales have failed to meet expectations.

The PlayStation VR headset debuted as a cheaper alternative to headsets from Oculus and HTC that debuted at prices that were hundreds of dollars more expensive, but after aggressive price slashing from Oculus moved hardware margins downwards across the board, the console maker seems to have had a tougher time distinguishing its efforts. Also, while it had appeared that Sony’s efforts were arriving ahead of a current-generation Xbox VR play, the company announced that it would not be pursuing a virtual reality headset for the Xbox One X, though that was initially a selling point of the more powerful system.

It’s unclear where exactly Marks will be directing his attention at Google within ATAP, though the company certainly has plenty of efforts in the AR/VR and gaming spaces that would benefit from his experience.

Google gives Chrome the virtual reality treatment

Google is injecting a little Chrome into its VR platform, bringing the web browser to Daydream headsets, the company announced today. It’s been a long time coming considering the depths of Google’s WebVR experimentation on desktop and mobile Chrome.

The Mountain View tech giant announced it was working on this quite a while ago, back at I/O 2017.

Google has been moving pretty slowly with any big Daydream updates lately, all while Facebook’s Oculus has driven heavy news to its mobile platform thanks to new standalone hardware. Daydream rolled out its own positionally-tracked headset with Lenovo earlier this summer but a major lack of content has been the system’s biggest issue. Bringing the web to Daydream could help correct this, and directing more mobile developer attention to WebVR might be a positive move for Google as it looks to make content discovery more simple.

Last year, the company made it so that you could open WebVR content in mobile Chrome on your phone and then drop it into a Cardboard headset and check out the content, with this you’ll be able to launch inside VR, explore inside VR and then move onto something else.

Loading desktop webpages inside a VR headset doesn’t necessarily seem earth-shatteringly disruptive but there are some optimizations Google has ensured that some non-WebVR content gets special treatment including a “cinema mode” that drops videos into a special environment to keep your eyes on the content. You’ll also get incognito mode, voice search and access to your saved bookmarks.

The browser is available for Lenovo’s Mirage Solo as well as Google’s own Daydream View headset and you’ll gain access after updating Chrome on Android.

The web is largely still an untested wilderness for virtual reality that nobody is racing to conquer given headset volume is still pretty low and a lot of wind has been sucked out of VR’s sails lately. There’s a lot of interesting stuff that the web enables for virtual social environments especially and though most major powers are drawing attention to their own platforms, a platform like Chrome arriving on Daydream could start to spark some developer imagination for what’s possible.

BinaryVR raises $4.5M to bring you face-to-face with your digitized self

The promises of VR are heavily focused on the idea that users can grow more enveloped in the digital environments they explore, but also central to the experience is that they become more connected with their virtual representations.

BinaryVR’s central focus has been on a system of computer vision face-tracking particularly focused on the mouth that can translate a user’s facial input to a virtual reality avatar.

The startup has just closed a $4.5 million Series A with investment from Atinum Investment, KT Investment, Pearl Abyss and Kakao Ventures. BinaryVR has now raised about $5.8 million to date.

The goal is all around making avatars less creepy and more representative of their user. Some existing social VR titles use microphone input to kind of move the mouth open and closed, which is better than not trying at all, but there’s not much immersion. Another approach lies in inferring emotions based on muscle movement measured in a VR headset’s face pad, an approach that both Samsung and MindMaze have experimented with, but the technology only measures certain emotions and is far from a live feed of a user’s facial expressions.

BinaryVR’s vision is going to rely heavily on the rest of the virtual reality market maturing a bit; their work kind of assumes that headset manufacturers are going to start integrating eye-tracking controls sooner rather than later.

Being a VR peripheral company in 2018 is no small task. VR platform makers like Facebook, Google and HTC are more focused on making their systems easy to use rather than integrating far-flung novice-centric add-ons. HTC has made some efforts to build integrations with startup’s producing their own hardware, but for the most part these add-ons have only proven how difficult it is to market a specialized product that sits beyond the estuary of mainstream VR content.

The company released its $349 developer kit in early 2017.

BinaryVR has seen some early success with partners looking further down the road. High Fidelity, an SF-based social VR startup, which has raised $72 million, has been working with BinaryVR to let its users go as deep down the VR rabbit hole as they would like. Everything is still a bit odd-looking because today’s GPUs can only deliver so much at VR’s scale, but these are all technologies that will probably find integrations into headsets at some point — it’s a question of scaling today’s market when the benefits aren’t as apparent that is the company’s big challenge.

Fortunately, there are obviously more approachable verticals for the company to tackle in the meantime. BinaryVR has been working to bring facial-tracking to smartphones with built-in sensors. Their “HyprFace” tracking tech seems to be pretty capable and the Animoji-like demos they’ve shown off are impressive. There are certainly plenty of players in the consumer mobile space; BinaryVR is also exploring what integrations would be possible inside vehicles, though the logical use cases perhaps aren’t as readily apparent there.

The Bay Area-based startup certainly has some interesting challenges as it navigates a space filled with tech giants shifting their weight and creating waves of potential as a result, but as users aim to drag themselves further into the digital worlds that VR game studios are creating, it’s becoming clear that new sensors are necessary to make this a reality.

Disney to debut its first VR short next month

Walt Disney Animation Studio is set to debut its first VR short film, Cycles, this August in Vancouver, the Association for Computing Machinery announced today. The plan is for it to be a headliner at the ACM’s computer graphics conference (SIGGRAPH), joining other forms of VR, AR and MR entertainment in the conference’s designated Immersive Pavilion.

This film is a first for both Disney and its director, Jeff Gipson, who joined the animation team in 2013 to work as a lighting artist on films like Frozen, Zootopia and Moana. The objective of this film, Gipson said in the statement released by ACM, is to inspire a deep emotional connection with the story.

“We hope more and more people begin to see the emotional weight of VR films, and with Cycles in particular, we hope they will feel the emotions we aimed to convey with our story,” said Gipson.

Cycles centers around the meaning of creating a home and focuses on the ups and downs of a family as they create a life in theirs.

“Every house has a story unique to the people, the characters who live there,” says Gipson. “We wanted to create a story in this single place and be able to have the viewer witness life happening around them.”

While VR is a perfect candidate for this kind of emotionally driven story, the process of bringing an idea like this to life is no simple task. Apart from the technical feats involved (the short took about four months with 50 collaborators), even the notion of storyboarding is new when designing films like these. When working on Cycles, the team used both Quill VR animations and motion capture to bring their idea into a 3D space.

While this film is Disney’s first foray into VR films, it is terrain that its subsidiary Pixar Animation Studios explored this past winter in a VR trailer for the award-winning film Coco. And, according to a statement Pixar studio executives gave The Washington Post in December, it’s an area the studio would like to explore further through possible VR spin-offs.

Films like Cycles are far from mainstream, but as influential companies like Disney and Pixar continue to experiment in this space, the distant future of widespread VR cinema may be finally approaching.

HTC is gone

Gather around, campers, and hear a tale as old as time.

Remember the HTC Dream? The Evo 4G? The Google Nexus One? What about the Touch Diamond? All amazing devices. The HTC of 2018 is not the HTC that made these industry-leading devices. That company is gone.

It seems HTC is getting ready to lay off nearly a quarter of its workforce by cutting 1,500 jobs in its manufacturing unit in Taiwan. After the cuts, HTC’s employee count will be less than 5,000 people worldwide. Five years ago, in 2013, HTC employed 19,000 people.

HTC started as a white label device maker giving carriers an option to sell devices branded with their name. The company also had a line of HTC-branded connected PDAs that competed in the nascent smartphone market. BlackBerry, or Research in Motion as it was called until 2013, ruled this phone segment, but starting around 2007 HTC began making inroads thanks to innovated touch devices that ran Windows Mobile 6.0.

In 2008 HTC introduced the Touch line with the Touch Diamond, Touch Pro, Touch 3G and Touch HD. These were stunning devices for the time. They were fast, loaded with big, user swappable batteries and microSD card slots. The Touch Pro even had a front-facing camera for video calls.

HTC overplayed a custom skin onto of Windows Mobile making it a bit more palatable for the general user. At that time, Windows Mobile was competing with BlackBerry’s operating system and Nokia’s Symbian. None were fantastic, but Windows Mobile was by far the most daunting for new users. HTC did the best thing it could do and developed a smart skin that gave the phone a lot of features that would still be considered modern.

In 2009 HTC released the first Android device with Google. Called the HTC Dream or G1, the device was far from perfect. But the same could be said about the iPhone. This first Android phone set the stage for future wins from HTC, too. The company quickly followed up with the Hero, Droid Incredible, Evo 4G and, in 2010, the amazing Google Nexus One.

After the G1, HTC started skinning Android in the same fashion as it did Windows Mobile. It cannot be overstated how important this was for the adoption of Android. HTC’s user interface made Android usable and attractive. HTC helped make Android a serious competitor to Apple’s iOS.

In 2010 and 2011, Google turned to Samsung to make the second and third flagship Nexus phones. It was around this time Samsung started cranking out Android phones, and HTC couldn’t keep up. That’s not to say HTC didn’t make a go for it. The company kept releasing top-tier phones: the One X in 2012, the One Max in 2013, and the One (M8) in 2014. But it didn’t matter. Samsung had taken up the Android standard and was charging forward, leaving HTC, Sony, and LG to pick from the scraps.

At the end of 2010, HTC was the leading smartphone vendor in the United States. In 2014 it trailed Apple, Samsung, and LG with around a 6% market share in the US. In 2017 HTC captured 2.3% of smartphone subscribers and now in 2018, some reports peg HTC with less than a half percent of the smartphone market.

Google purchased a large chunk of HTC’s smartphone design talent in 2017 for $1.1 billion. The deal transferred more than 2,000 employees under Google’s tutelage. They will likely be charged with working on Google’s line of Pixel devices. It’s a smart move. This HTC team was responsible for releasing amazing devices that no one bought. But that’s not entirely their fault. Outside forces are to blame. HTC never stopped making top-tier devices.

The HTC of today is primarily focused on the Vive product line. And that’s a smart play. The HTC Vive is one of the best virtual reality platforms available. But HTC has been here before. Hopefully, it learned something from its mistakes in smartphones.