Behind the Scenes of HTC BlinkFeed

It was early 2012, and we had just announced the HTC One X, the most highly acclaimed smartphone the company had ever created.

But instead of popping champagne corks, our design teams around the world were already studying new customer research that had them pondering the implications for the future of the smartphone experience.

The innovative BlinkFeed user experience.The thinking would soon crystalize into one of the most striking features of the new HTC One: the innovative HTC BlinkFeed experience that turns your homescreen into a stream of the news and updates that matter to you.

Studies of how people use their smartphones showed that they were checking their devices dozens of times a day, often for just a few seconds at a time. They were jumping from app to app, trying to stay on top of all their information.

People are checking their phones dozens of times a day, often for only a few seconds at a time.

For HTC user experience (UX) Design Lead Peter Chin, smartphone users under the age of 30 were of particular interest, since they set the trends that others follow. With nearly 20 years working on mobile design, Chin speaks from extensive experience.

“We found that these users are less tied to specific brands or a specific news source. They also aren’t invested in particular applications. They are more focused on topics and what friends have to say,” Chin said.

A New Idea

These insights led the team to ponder a radical change from the dominant smartphone paradigm – row after row after row of icons — that hadn’t changed for years.

As a relatively young company still building itself, HTC doesn’t have the massive market capitalization or marketing budgets of its main rivals. Instead, we rely on innovation to win customers. By making BlinkFeed a centerpiece of the new Sense user experience, we could offer a dramatic alternative to the industry norm.

“It wasn’t so much about what our competitors were doing. It was more that this is what users are doing, and we think we could make it better,” said Dave Brinda, one of the founders of HTC’s UX design team.

Early sketches of what became HTC BlinkFeed.

“It’s not necessarily the app that the user cares about, it’s the content. BlinkFeed is about reducing the barrier between the user and the stuff they care about,” Brinda continued.

Recent research shows that heavy smartphone users check their devices up to 150 times a day, more than once every 10 minutes. For many of us, our smartphone is the one piece of tech we can’t live without.

But phones have been stuck in this paradigm based on apps and icons. To get to your content, you have to constantly jump in and out of apps. BlinkFeed Program Manager Scott Jarol calls this behavior “pogo-sticking”, and it’s the consequence of an interface originally designed for PCs, not handheld devices.

“The problem is that everything is an app. Every day you’ve got this problem of opening your phone and going to a hundred different apps to find everything,” Jarol said.

To get the content you want, you have to “pogo-stick”: constantly jump in and out of apps. This is a consequence of an interface designed for PCs, not handheld devices.

“The plan was to make this snackable content on the home screen, that’s timely, and changes frequently. The idea is that you take your phone out and there’s always something new to see.”

Support From the Top

HTC Chief Executive Peter Chou immediately saw the potential of BlinkFeed to redefine the smartphone.

“He would actually live with it every day even though it had limited functionality in those early builds. He was thinking on a global scale, like, ‘If I was in China, what would I want to do and who are the content providers.’,” Chin said. “He got really, really deeply involved and wanted to know the details of the design.”

Early sketches of what became HTC BlinkFeed.

BlinkFeed builds on the success of earlier HTC innovations such as FriendStream, a widget that displayed updates from Facebook and Twitter in one place.

“We knew that we could do something better. We could do something bolder. Something that would let you spend more time consuming the things you care about rather than digging for it,” Chin said.

Acting Like a Startup

The design challenge of BlinkFeed was just the tip of the iceberg. The technical and business challenges were also daunting. To fulfill its promise, BlinkFeed needed to source content from thousands of outlets, and broadcast it live to millions of users around the world.

That meant a radical change of direction for a company rooted in the world of hardware manufacturing and software design.

“It’s new for HTC to think about services,” said Jarol, whose past stints at Walt Disney’s Internet Group and RealNetworks have placed him at the often chaotic crossroads of content and technology. “It’s really a new way of doing business. It’s really deep integration of services and clients, and it’s taking services to the home screen.”

Media companies, already racing to pivot to mobile, jumped at the chance to have their content displayed front and center. To ensure reliability, we built a server farm dedicated to dishing up content to millions of BlinkFeed users.

“If you look at BlinkFeed, in Silicon Valley that could totally be its own company. We did all that, and everything else with the software, plus we built the [phone] hardware,” Brinda said.

“With BlinkFeed, it all aligned perfectly. It fit a user need. It moved the industry forward.”

  • Andrew Lone

    I really. Like blinkfeed instead. Of going to separate apps like twitter. Or Facebook i can check blinkfeed all there at one touch brilliant

  • Deveal2014

    I love Blinkfeed

  • nate

    I love blinkfeed it has become my main source of news throughout the day. I absolutely love how fresh and relevant the content is. When I first heard or seen blinkfeed I thought ir was just going to be a bunch of crap I didn’t wanna read or was going to be irrelevant but it’s not like that at all.

  • Aleksandar Petrović

    I have to say I first thought that the BlinkFeed was just a gimmick, but it actually turns out to be great content provider. I check there for tweets, instagram pictures and news that matter to me.

  • TristanSchaaf

    When i bought my HTC One i figured I was going to hate BlinkFeed. Forcing me to use a homescreen i might actually want to use for something else.

    Turns out, i don’t hate it, i love it!

    I had flipboard before, but BlinkFeed is way more integrated, and feels more intuitive. It’s not an app you have to open, it’s just there.
    The only thing I wish that could change is that while I get content should be categorized in countries, why can’t i chose two or more? If that could be changed BlinkFeed would be perfect.

  • Hamyd Ansari

    Blinkfeed is a Wonderful thought and innovation. Positioning of the same is not as same as seen in the sketch. There should have been option for changing its position and just not be there on left side.

  • TRNR

    From the get-go I saw BlinkFeed as a great concept. As I had mainly used Google+ to get updates on various news stories and information I thought of BlinkFeed as a good contender. I had a little hesitation about it at first but after seeing how it all worked I quickly jumped aboard.

    After getting my One and getting use to the new interface I setup my BlinkFeed and tried it out. At the moment I can honestly say that I’ve gotten attached to HTC’s new feed, so much so that I rarely use Google+ for my news updates anymore thanks to having read most of them on BlinkFeed throughout the day. It is a great concept in my eyes, the design and functionality as well. A few tweaks here and there could make it better, but I know they will come in the future.

  • alexiy777

    how to remove this sh*t?

  • DinoLaz

    I don’t like HTC Sense but I love blinkfeed – is there a way we can have it as a stand alone app that we can use with other launchers?

  • hostile_17

    I love the concept of BlinkFeed – but the content is too restricted. Just (often badly written) American content. When can we include content we like, our own RSS feeds – so BlinkFeed can really live up to its claim of “connecting to what matters to you most”. Because right now, all the things that are important to me aren’t there.

    • http://www.darrenkrape.com/ Darren Krape

      We’re continually adding new providers, so expect to see a wider selection.

      • hostile_17

        Thanks. Which MMA sites will you be featuring?

  • udr78750

    I like blinkfeed. I use it almost every day to keep myself updated. The only problem I have is the number of subscribers and should be country based. So if I want news from my country (India), I should be able to see it and from good content providers. Currently the number is very small and most of the big news gets left out. Otherwise a fantastic concept. Removes the need of third party apps. I seriously hope HTC ties up with more content providers.

    • http://www.darrenkrape.com/ Darren Krape

      Yup, we’re continuing to add new partners!

  • Rolf Brandser

    So when will we get Google + in BlinkFeed?

    • http://www.darrenkrape.com/ Darren Krape

      Hi Rolf, Unfortunately we don’t have dates for any new addition until they are ready.

      • Rolf Brandser

        So you can confirm It’s coming? 🙂

        • http://www.darrenkrape.com/ Darren Krape

          Haha. Alas, no. I cannot confirm anything that we haven’t already announced.

  • Susinanth Potri

    I congratulate HTC for the innovation of BlinkFeed and pray that they do well in business in order to enrich our lives .I strongly recommend everyone in need of a new mobile to buy HTC one.it’s GODSEND as for as mobile technology is concerned.

    • HTC Social Team

      It’s definitely our goal to bring our customers the the
      best in quality and innovation when it comes to our mobile devices. We’re glad
      to hear you’re having a great experience with the HTC One, Susinanth!

  • HTC Social Team

    Glad to hear you’re enjoying your customized BlinkFeed, Luke. Which news and media outlets are you tapped into for your updates?

  • Kevin Joric Apolonio

    I’d originally thought it to be nothing more than a Flipboard carbon copy, but then I actually got an HTC One. To my surprise, I use BlinkFeed a lot more often than I thought I would. I’ve come across all sorts of interesting articles to snack-read on in my spare time (though I hate how being on a prepaid internet plan limits my time online) thanks to the Filter option, which weeds out the things I’m not hardly interested in.

    Thanks, HTC! I was a bit of a ******* fanboy (no need to point any fingers) when I got my first ever smartphone back in 2010, but now I’m HTC all the way!

    I still check out my dedicated Facebook app, though XD