2014 may be the year of HTC’s tablet comeback
It’s not difficult to recall the glory days of HTC. The Nexus One is easily one of the company’s more memorable smartphones. But that’s just one in a long line of fantastic smartphones and other devices.
The EVO 4G, G1, Touch Pro series, HD2, Desire line, and several more are not only HTC classics, they’re considered classics by many for the entire history of smartphones. They each played a major part in what we all consider high-end smartphones today. And while HTC may not be the current front runner, it showed us in 2013 that it means business, and it will not go down without putting up one hell of a fight.
Unlike most other smartphone manufacturers, however, HTC did something rather strange back in 2011. While Samsung, Motorola, ASUS, Lenovo, Acer, LG, and practically every other Android manufacturer imaginable were off, slaving away over making the next so-called “iPad killer,” HTC seemingly halted all of its efforts in the tablet space.
The HTC Flyer, as unique and gorgeous as it was, was a non-starter for the company. HTC simply couldn’t manage to keep the price down. Here in the states, the Flyer launched on Sprint as the HTC View 4G and sold for $399 with a two-year agreement. That’s right, a 7-inch WiMAX tablet for upwards of $400 (after taxes) … subsidized. And I’m sure the $80 add-on, battery-powered stylus didn’t help matters either.
And the second HTC tablet, the 10-inch Jetstream, was more of the same pricing nightmare. Stateside, the tablet launched exclusively on AT&T and sold for a brain-melting $699 on-contract. On-contract! Two years! This was only $150 cheaper than buying it without a contract.
Needless to say, HTC had trouble coping with what was then a new, unproven market. It took a chance on the high-end part of the tablet … and failed. More so then than now, tablets were largely misunderstood, luxury items. Apple, who was and still is the industry leader, had little trouble moving units of its iPad back in 2011, but even the gold standard of 2011 was a tough sell. A $500 product no one really needs? Pfft.
Then HTC came along, threw its half-baked tablets on shelves, demanding even more money (or the same amount of money for a markedly smaller and seemingly less useful device, the Flyer) of its customers, and quickly bit the dust.
Fast forward nearly three years and HTC has yet to dabble in the tablet space again, at least officially. Apple has expanded its iPad lineup with the iPad mini and created a formidable opponent, the iPad Air. Samsung, countless tablets later, is the only manufacturer to share double-digit percentages of the tablet market share with Apple, and a handful of others are fighting for scraps and relevancy.
ASUS, for what it’s worth, has created two highly reputable tablets under the Google Nexus brand, and pushed innovation in the space along with the Transformer series, helping it take third place in the share breakdown, as of Q3 2013. And Amazon continues to push highly affordable Android-powered Kindle Fires into the hands of anyone who will buy one.
Point being, the tablet space is an ugly one – far more ugly and scrappy than the smartphone market was at this age. It’s practically a duopoly, and we’ve seen several companies attempt to enter, only to fail. Miserably.
And that’s exactly why HTC should make a tablet comeback this year.
In 2010 and 2011, before HTC’s pair of tablets became official, they turned heads, just like the firm’s beautiful handsets. If HTC does one thing better than just about any other Android manufacturer, it’s design.
The Android space is in need of a truly beautiful tablet, not this perpetual, cheap plastic nonsense. The Jetsream and HTC Flyer were handsome pieces of equipment, and I can’t think of a single tablet currently on the market which can compete with the aesthetics of an HTC-made tablet.
HTC can’t hinge its entire business on design, though. ASUS has made high-end, somewhat pretty tablets more than once, and they’ve failed. ASUS got its priorities out of order, and form took precedence over function. The TF700 had countless issues with Wi-Fi connectivity, thanks to the all-metal construction.
And as Motorola has shown us more than once in the past six months, user experience cannot be understated. But I think Sense 5 and HTC’s developments in 2013 were a testament to its understanding of just how important the experience is for its users. Sense 5, by no means, was perfect, but it was a far cry from HTC software of past.
Remember, though, this isn’t a vacuum. And HTC isn’t only great at one thing. It’s topnotch at several things, and it has a history with tablets many of you may not remember.
Second to design? At least in 2013, HTC showed us something few competitors have dabbled with: front-facing speakers. Tablets are largely multimedia devices, and front-facing speakers – as we all learned with the HTC One – are the way to go. The only other tablet I’ve ever used with front-facing speakers (the only tablet even with front-facing speakers which comes to mind) is the Google Nexus 10 by Samsung. And the multimedia experience sans headphones with the Nexus 10 was notably superior.
And that history? It’s a product I recall drooling over as a senior in high school and the early years of college – the HTC tablet called the Shift UMPC.
Granted, it wasn’t the best device the company has released. And by today’s standards, nearly every aspect of the Shift is laughable – price, form factor, size, performance, etc.
The Shift was far ahead of its time, though. It was a Windows Vista-powered touchscreen, ultraportable PC with a slide-out keyboard, not unlike some of the more recent hybrids we’ve seen from manufacturers pairing touch screens with Windows 8 machines, like the Lenovo Yoga series or Samsung ATIV Q. But this was released in 2008.
I’m not saying HTC should remake the Shift. (I’m not saying it shouldn’t either.) All I’m saying is HTC had some prowess back in the day and wasn’t afraid to think outside the box. If the company, which undoubtedly has history making stellar products, can rekindle some of its old innovative ways and bring some compelling hardware (and software, too) to the tablet space, I think the company could have a shot at working its way up the market share ladder.
It’s a long road ahead, of course, and it’s a steep one. Success won’t happen overnight. HTC needs to study pricing and release something … competitive, in more ways than one. It has to get its hands dirty.
I’ll remain hopeful, since the company says its tablet will be “disruptive” when it finally arrives. And it’s supposed to have a smartwatch up its sleeve, too.
Rest assured, HTC is alive and well. It’s time it show us what its working with.