HTC backing away from metal phones would be a boneheaded move
Last month, right around the time when HTC announced the Butterfly S, I wrote a little about the relationship between Butterfly phones and the HTC One, and applauded how HTC seemed to be setting up a pair of parallel tracks for these models – the One in metal, the Butterfly S in plastic – yet both running what’s essentially the same hardware. While there was still the problem of the different phones being sold in different markets, the idea intrigued me, and I felt that HTC might be able to find more success by selling both phones alongside each other – really give shoppers a meaningful choice with design divorced from silicon.
I know it shouldn’t be a surprise, especially considering how often this industry ends up disappointing me, but a new rumor arrived last week that’s either pretty much the 180 opposite of my hopes for HTC’s strategy, or just about the best news I could hear in support of it. According to the source behind the story, HTC is looking to bring the One more in line with the design of the Butterfly, and some future One follow-up, whether hardware refresh or full-blown sequel, would arrive in 2014 with a plastic body.
For as sympathetic as I am to the added challenges placed on the manufacture of a metal-body handset, and as appreciative as I can be towards the industry-wide preference for plastics, I think HTC would be making a huge mistake to back away from metal phones.
Planning For The Next One (Two?)
What about that little caveat I mentioned? That this could be great news? Well, besides the idea that HTC is planning a plastic version of the One for next year, that rumor didn’t get into many other specifics. That leaves us with the distinct possibility that we’re not looking at HTC forgetting about metal phones, and simply selling a plastic clone of the One in addition to the existing metal version. That could greatly simplify marketing, and even if HTC didn’t want to make both versions available in the same regions, giving customers a choice, at least the metal One would still be out there somewhere.
After all, the One Mini – from what we’ve seen of it – is big on plastics, and its big brother the One Max will likely be, as well. Surely, if there were any devices where HTC might employ metal, it would be in other One-series models, right? The appearance that it won’t, coupled with this rumor about a plastic One, has me beginning to doubt that metal bodies could be ongoing parts of HTC’s smartphone lineup.
Am I just getting ahead of myself? Reading way too much into that rumor? Maybe, but it’s no secret that HTC revenues just aren’t where they need to be, and the One – though it did generate a big sales rush following its launch – has already seriously cooled down.
With the One, that metal body was a gamble; HTC wanted the phone to be seen as a premium product, and sacrificed in order to do so. Not only does metal make the One more complicated and expensive to manufacture, but it’s bound to make servicing the hardware – if even just for refurbishing – a major pain.
If going that far still wasn’t enough to bring HTC’s smartphone offerings back to prominence, HTC must be thinking how foolish it would be to ignore all the evidence and keep blindly stumbling down that same path in the future.
That’s So Metal Of You
… But going down that same road again might just be the smartest thing for HTC to do. The failure of the One to catch on with a larger audience can be blamed on a lot of things, but that metal build isn’t one of them. Reactions I’ve heard to the One’s construction run the gamut, but they’re definitely leaning more towards the positive.
Especially without another good high-profile metal smartphone option, the One stands out in a way that HTC really needs. The company seems well aware by this point that its promotion game is underwhelming, and any way to differentiate your handset – especially in a positive way like this – is going to help.
That’s why I’ve got to plead with you, HTC: stick it out with the metal phones. Let that continue to be your “thing,” only go bigger with it – embrace a look for your smartphones that stands out from the pack. Release a plastic One, sure, but keep that metal option there, and place it front and center. Keep making quality hardware, built with desirable materials, and users will respond.