Headphone jack dies, virtual assistant comes to life with HTC's U phones


Posted at Jan 13 2017 12:18 PM | Updated as of Jan 13 2017 12:49 PM

A member of staff poses with a new HTC smartphone "U Ultra" and "U Play" (R) after their launch event in Taipei, Taiwan January 12, 2017. Tyrone Siu, Reuters

MANILA – Taiwan’s struggling HTC Corp. advanced the push for virtual assistants and wireless audio, as it unveiled a glass smartphone months ahead of the competition in an increasingly saturated market.

The U Ultra packs a 5.7-inch screen and Sense Companion in a high-gloss chassis, challenging Google’s Assistant which arrived last year on its Pixel phone range, Amazon’s Alexa, which will ship with the Huwaei’s Mate 9, and Siri on Apple Inc.’s iPhones.

HTC has struggled for a commercial hit for years, overtaken by South Korea’s Samsung Electronics and LG Corp., that also manufacture phones running on Google’s Android software.

The glass design is a design departure for HTC, which is known for its sleek metal phones.

The U Ultra and its smaller iteration, the 5.2-inch U Play, both scrapped the 3.5-mm headphone jack, a decades-old industry standard, in favor of bundled earphones, which HTC claims adjusts the sound based on the shape of the user’s inner ears.

Apple infamously killed the headphone jack in its iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 plus last year. HTC followed with the US-only Bolt phablet.

A variant of the U Ultra will feature a sapphire glass front, similar to the ones used in luxury watches, to offer better resistance against scratches, the company said. It will run Android 7.0 Nougat.

The U line was launched ahead of the anticipated mid-year unveiling of flagship phones from HTC’s rivals Samsung and LG.

Samsung is expected to unveil the 8th edition of its Galaxy S line, which was pushed back after the company grappled with the fallout from its exploding Galaxy Note 7 line.