By Stephen Schenck | January 22, 2013 7:04 AM
Despite having some of the makings of a solid Android lineup, with devices like the One X and its beautiful screen, or the Droid DNA/Butterfly with its industry-first 1080p display, HTC really didn’t have a fantastic year in 2012. It struggled to attract customers and subsequently saw a drop-off in sales, ending up with something like a mere five percent of the global market. I don’t think that’s because HTC isn’t able to make great smartphone, nor because there’s simply no place for it in a crowded market, but because the company has continued to make a few big mistakes. With a few tweaks to how it designs, manufactures, and sells smartphones, HTC’s got a fair shot at turning things around in 2013. Here’s what I think it needs to avoid:
Not Giving Users Better Hardware Options
That may be an odd thing to say, since HTC delivered phones at both the high end and the low end of the spectrum (despite plans to the contrary), with specs ranging all over the chart, and in a number of different sizes. That certainly sounds like it did its part in providing users with options, but for my money, it really dropped the ball on some super-important ones.
HTC has the wrong idea when it comes to batteries, and it desperately needs to re-think the role of removable batteries, particularly when it comes to the high-end, energy-hungry section of its lineup. It’s no surprise why we see phones like the Droid DNA arrive without a battery you can replace, as that’s a luxury which adds precious thickness to a phone’s design – we heard from HTC all the way back in April that its market research indicated that users demanded thin phones above all else, giving battery capacity or even just the ability replace batteries little concern.
Unfortunately for HTC, power issues are very much a reality, and users who were apparently lacking in foresight seem to have steered HTC down the wrong path. It’s not that we don’t appreciate a super-thin phone here and there, but when all your headlining phones have non-replaceable batteries, it’s a problem. Even when the company seems to realize that there’s a demand for models with larger-capacity batteries, like it did with the One X+, it still seems blind to the benefit of letting end users replace their own batteries or even install after-market over-sized components.
It’s not just batteries I’ve got a problem with, and the company is super-spotty with its support for microSD. Thankfully, it saw fit to outfit low-storage phones like the One V or the Desire X with the ability to expand storage, but why does the international Butterfly support microSD and not the Droid DNA? You could argue that phones like the One X or X+ don’t really need extra storage space, but microSD isn’t just about capacity; it’s about having the fastest way to get large files on and off your phone, and it’s a small travesty that HTC isn’t giving this incredibly useful function to more of its top-tier models.
Too Many, Too Similar Models
Like I said, HTC put out a nice spread of phones of different sizes in 2012, ranging from those with 3.5-inch screens up to the 5.0-inch Droid DNA. That’s well and good, but do we really need HVGA, WVGA, and qHD phones, all with 4.0-inch displays?
All these options aren’t helped any by HTC’s naming scheme, which is unfortunate because it hints at some logical consistencies; we know Desire models are going to be on the lower end, and HTC established early-on in the year that an S is going to be better than a V, and an X better than an S. After that, though, things start to fall apart; would you assume the XL was an X Large (not to be confused with the X+) or an X Lite? Its true meaning, being the X LTE, might not even be a user’s third guess. Then HTC tries to shovel-in models like the SV that straddle the lines between existing models, and end up being both a step up and a step down.
The alphabet soup seems a bit Sony-ish at times, and makes me long for a total overhaul of HTC’s system. In the process, it needs to cut down on so many models that closely resemble each other, both on the high and the low ends of its lineup.
A Lack of Meaningful Promotion
Samsung had a banner year in 2012, and beyond just having great hardware, it knew how to sell it. We saw tie-ins with the Olympics, and a number of great commercials, especially when Samsung took the time to go toe-to-toe with Apple. Sure, that kind of thing can come off as a bit boastful, but that’s what you need to be to get people talking about you. I don’t watch much in the way of live TV anymore (god bless you, Mr. DVR), and I still found myself exposed to plenty of memorable Samsung ads last year; I’m really struggling to recall a single HTC advertisement that managed to capture my attention at all.
HTC, to its credit, seems acutely aware of this failing, and we’ve already heard CEO Peter Chou acknowledge that the company needs to step up its promotion game. For HTC’s sake, let’s just hope that doesn’t end up being too little, too late.
So, there you have it, three mistakes HTC’s been making that it sorely needs to address. Before I go, I just thought I’d point out why there hasn’t been mention of the company’s Windows Phone lineup so far: as far as I’m concerned, HTC is doing pretty well on that front. You can chalk some of that up to Microsoft’s influence on advertising, and the much smaller sample size we’re looking at. If I had the opportunity to offer just one piece of advice for its future WP offerings: stop using the platform itself as part of the phone’s name. Just the HTC 8X is fine.