There’s a phrase that I read for the first time about a decade ago that has stuck with me ever since. It said: “Before you show the world that you can be the first one to climb a ladder, make sure you set it on the right wall”.
The best way to describe HTC is by calling them the first ones at almost everything. HTC built some of the first touch screen devices we used almost 15 years ago. They built the Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC that steered the revolution that has allowed our website to exist. They were one of the first companies to successfully merge a phone with a PDA even before the term “Smartphone” existed. Your love for a slide-out keyboard has their name on the patent. They were the ones who began the whole “Phonezilla complex” we all love with the 4-inch screen on the HTC HD2. They launched the first 3G Windows Mobile smartphone, built the world’s first Android phone, brought us the first 4G smartphones, and the list goes on. There’s no denying that the phrase they printed on their Touch Diamond a couple of years ago held true, as they called it HTC Innovation.
You’d assume that a company that’s been so great at showing the world where to push should lead it, right? Sadly that’s not always the case, and I’m sure the deceased Palm and Motorola can tell you more about how they’ve failed to survive in the industries they’ve both invented with the PDA and the first cell phone respectively. In a similar way, HTC’s stock took a horrible dive yesterday because they’ve announced yet another quarter of disappointing results. People have already begun to do the inevitable by stating that HTC is the next Nokia and RIM which is a truly unfair comparison in my opinion, since both these later companies have sunk out of arrogance and stubbornness where as HTC has shown how well they’ve been able to reinvent themselves over the years.
So the question is, if HTC has pretty much pioneered the industry we all love, why are they sinking? I have a couple of thoughts on why this is happening, and I’m sure you do too, so let’s begin talking about it:
HTC products need to walk the talk
Being the first ones at everything doesn’t mean that they’re the best, and customers have learned this over the years. Racing to always be the first ones at everything can be as destructive as it is constructive. Great products require time, and a grounded approach to testing them. By grounded approach, I mean that HTC should be the toughest critic of their own products, and not us as reviewers or the end-customer who’ll most likely never buy another HTC product again. Sometimes it seems like if the company was ran by the Marketing team where everything is overestimated and nothing is as good as it’s sold out to be.
I’ll give you the first example of why HTC is great at climbing the ladder before setting it on the right wall. HTC has done a lot of lip service about the “Amazing Camera” on their One X. Sadly, as I sat watching Peter Chou in the One Series keynote back at MWC, I noticed that all he was focusing on was the speed at which the camera app would launch and take the first photo. He did a lot of talking about how they had studied customers and had determined that the device should be ready to take the first photo in just 0.7 seconds. The problem is when they completely miss the fact that people care more about the resulting photos than how long it took them to launch the app. At times when Nokia, Apple and Samsung have already figured out how to provide you with a great camera replacement on your smartphone, HTC has no excuse for failure in something as basic, as giving us the truly amazing camera that they tout.
The same goes for the “Authentic Sound” they’re supposed to deliver with their Beats Audio integration, where I’m still not able to find any significant improvements when compared to what other smartphones can do with simple bass boost.
It’s great to stand in front of a crowd and tell the world how great your device is, but these are times when people don’t forgive products that don’t deliver on their promise.
HTC needs to stop being a tool for carriers
Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t carriers be a tool for HTC to sell their products?
Apple and HTC have completely opposite approaches to dealing with US phone carriers. HTC pretty much used carriers to push their branding and success by allowing them to name their phones as their own, even if you ended up with stupid names like the “Sprint EVO 4G LTE”. Apple on the other hand, having never sold a single phone, felt that the approach was wrong. Carriers should stick to their core business of providing a good spectrum while OEMs deal with what they do best on the hardware and software side of things. Apple even did the unbelievably daring maneuver of sticking to just one carrier for almost three years while HTC was on all of them. So why, o why is it that one company, with just one product, a very controversial approach, and no experience in smartphones has beaten HTC’s dozens of phones on all carriers?
The answer is that Apple was right. They were so right, that Samsung has begun to follow their footsteps with their Galaxy S III, and has already succeeded defeating HTC who already had a couple of months of head start with the One series.
HTC needs to stop betting their company on carriers. Surely they’ll save a buck or two in distribution, but HTC’s branding and innovation is lost in so much of the bloatware that carriers push in their devices. Just try to repeat the name “Verizon Droid Incredible 4G LTE by HTC” without laughing at how ridiculous it is, and tell me if you don’t agree with me in the fact that carriers don’t get it. There was nothing wrong with the design of the HTC One series, and still, Sprint and Verizon wanted their own names and variants, which as a result have diluted all of HTC’s marketing efforts in pushing the One X as “the One you’ve been waiting for”.
HTC needs to be bigger
Years ago, everybody used either MWC or CES to announce their products. It’s only smart to use these famous trade shows to expose your products to the world. Samsung isn’t playing that game any more with their flagship line-up though. They’ve understood how degrading it is for their products to be considered just another release at a specific trade show. They’ve grown-up, and they want their products to receive the entire spotlight whenever they “unpack” them.
HTC isn’t a small company, but they need to begin behaving as a big one. Their One series marketing campaign, while good, has been mute just months after the One X was launched. It takes more sacrifice to have your own press events, your own sales distribution and to lose a couple of bucks in landing exclusive deals with carriers, but in the long run, Samsung and Apple have shown us how it pays off. At times, it feels as if HTC stops believing in their own products just months after they release them, as they focus on their next batch of variants. If you don’t agree with me, just tell me why their beloved Desire HD isn’t getting Ice Cream Sandwich hauling better specs than the HTC One V.
Sense needs to make sense
I wish somebody at HTC read this and answered a simple question: What happened to HTCSense.com? Here’s an example of a good product that was ditched because of their lack of persistence, even if they say they’re working on a newer version. They somehow understood that the secret lies in the ecosystem, but have sadly not pushed it enough to succeed, in a similar way they forget about their older smartphones.
HTC’s software experience is another example of how they’ve quickly climbed the wrong wall. HTC Sense is pretty, but that’s actually both good and bad. It’s good because it’s far more elegant than the rest of the launchers on other competing smartphones, but it’s bad because Android is mainly used by men. I’m not saying that as guys we don’t prefer an elegant UI, but our male psyche prefers those things that are practical when compared to those things that are beautiful. HTC has proven to be stubborn in making HTC Sense the most beautiful UI in the market even if we don’t care. As a result, they’ve even made NVIDIA’s quad-core Tegra 3 processor look bad when running all the fluff in Sense 4.0. I’m sure that all of you would agree with me that we’d all care less if the UI was less refined if we were allowed to get the speed that we’re looking for on a quad-core processor we just bought.
HTC needs Jelly Bean. I’ve said this before. Whether they snap Sense into it or not is something we still don’t know, but I wish they’d re-orient their focus on making this a fluid experience, and not just a pretty one. If they made the bold move of giving us the option to install stock Jelly Bean with just a couple of HTC Sense widgets, they’d find a loyal customer in me going forward. Android isn’t broken any more, and HTC needs to stop trying to fix it.
The bottom line
Just as HTC has done in the past, they need to re-invent themselves again. This time, they need to innovate in their approach a lot more than they do in their products. This time it’s no longer about being the first to launch new features if they can’t be bold enough to also be the best at them.
Every time I hold my One X, I get a clear sense for all the thoughtfulness that went into the design and I praise those brilliant people that pushed the limits of their hardware. It actually infuriates me that Samsung can be more successful at selling a phone that has cheaper build-quality at an even higher price tag than the well-made One X. HTC doesn’t deserve to lose in this game. The world would be at loss if they did.
Obviously, I’m not saying that everything I wrote is what should happen. I’m sure you all have better ideas of how HTC can regain its glory days. Be sure to share them in the comments down bellow.