With CES 2013 going on this week and lots of excitement for mobile technology, it was quite disheartening to hear of HTC's continued financial woes and statements that marketing efforts failed in 2012 and were believed to be a major factor in their continued falling profits. As I sat back this weekend and thought of HTC, I had the following question pop into my mind: "Would anyone even care if HTC just went away?" I then spent the last couple of days thinking about the implications of the mobile world without HTC and what HTC has done for this space over the last 13 years and the clear answer is that HTC is a vital resource in the smartphone market and we would be worse off without them.
HTC has been around since 1999, but their role has changed over the years from making devices for others (with their name often hidden behind batteries) to selling their own HTC-branded products. Larry thinks HTC should consider going back to a white label manufacturer and while that is a strategy for them to consider I personally like seeing the HTC brand on my devices and want to see this brand succeed. I think they do need to change their tagline, currently Quietly Brilliant, to something more aggressive (maybe Proudly Innovative) if they want their own brand to stand out and grab people. The quietly brilliant person often does very well in school and life, but their significant contributions to society are sometimes not apparent until after their death and most of us don't want to see HTC die anytime soon.
As I was considering whether or not the mobile world in 2013 would care if HTC was around, I took a stroll through HTC's history and as you can see in the partial list below their innovations continue to push the smartphone market forward and they were the first to accomplish an amazing number of milestones in the history of mobile technology. It is especially interesting to me when you consider that much of the work that we see in finished products today begins a year or two, sometimes longer, before the public sees the results so they are thinking way ahead of what most of us can even imagine and yet we keep asking for more.
- 1999: First color palm-size PC, Compaq Aero 2100.
- 2000: Compaq iPaq H3630 color Pocket PC. A fabulous device that was the best Pocket PC for some time.
- 2002: First cellular Pocket PC, Pocket PC Phone/MDA/XDA
- 2002: First Windows Mobile Smartphone, SPV. This was an excellent phone that showed the smartphone version of WM was quite compelling.
- 2008: First Android smartphone, T-Mobile G1.
- 2010: First Google Nexus device, Nexus One.
- 2010: Last Windows Mobile device, HTC HD2. Pushed Windows Mobile further than Microsoft with capacitive touchscreen enhancements and more.
- 2010: First 4G smartphone in the US, HTC EVO 4G.
- 2010: First Windows Phone 7 device, HTC HD7.
- 2011: Introduced high end camera software with various modes such as HDR, panorama, face detection, and more in the HTC Amaze 4G, for example.
- 2012: First smartphone with 1080p display, the HTC Droid DNA.
There are MANY more technologies and services that HTC was first to accomplish, but I just wanted to give you a quick picture that shows they are very important to the mobile space and we would indeed be worse off without them. In addition to technology innovations, HTC has the best designs of all manufacturers. You can quickly tell an HTC device and its quality when you hold an HTC smartphone with a Samsung, Motorola, LG, Sony, and even Apple device. I shake my head in disbelief that a cheaper feeling device, like the Galaxy S III, blows the doors off sales of something like the HTC One X and think there is something missing here that HTC needs to resolve.
I am interested to hear what people think a main cause or two might be for HTC's recent struggles. I think many of us love their designs and appreciate the quality products in their lineup, but for some reason that isn't translating into sales and profits. Here are some possibilities I can think of:
- Broad carrier support: This seems to be primarily a US issue, but looking at the GSIII success I have to wonder if a single HTC One product on all carriers would be successful.
- Higher end specs: Most HTC products no longer have removable batteries or microSD cards. This really doesn't bother me, but limiting high end devices to 16GB does.
- Android updates: Again, I think this used to be limited to the enthusiasts, but it seems more "normal" consumers are considering this too. HTC doesn't have the best track record for updating older/current devices. I understand there are carrier challenges, but Apple and Microsoft seem to be getting through that hurdle pretty well. Is it time for HTC to push back on carriers?
- Marketing: This was something that was recently mentioned in the press and I do think it helps. I have "normal" relatives (well, normal in the electronic consumer sense) that are familiar with the name HTC so I am not convinced this is the only issue holding them back from major success.
- Iterative smartphone updates: I know it is extremely difficult to design and plan far in advance, but in the past I grew tired of new devices from HTC that fixed improved one or two specifications just three to six months after the first device release. It looks like these aggressive device iterations slowed down considerably in 2012 so I don't see this as much of an issue anymore.
Is HTC's problem one or more of these issues? What else is holding them back from being successful like they were from 1999 through 2011? Just two years ago, at the 2011 MWC HTC was named Device Manufacturer of the Year. They know how to be a leader in the mobile world and I believe they can regain that title. Realistic success for HTC won't be leading the world in smartphone sales, but if they can turn profit figures around a secure a firm place in worldwide marketshare we will all be better off. 2013 will be a defining year for HTC and I hope we can look back on 2012 as just another short detour that they successfully navigated around in their highly successful and innovative history.