Dear HTC, Please Step Up Your Game
It’s time for an intervention. It wasn’t so long ago that you made the best smartphones on the market — hands down. In fact, it feels like just yesterday that your competitors were scrambling to keep up with your innovative devices, whose components, form factors, and software habitually pushed the envelope and gave power users a refreshing alternative to the restrictive iPhone ecosystem. From 2005’s Apache through the release of the HD2 in late 2009 (or EVO 4G in early 2010), you were at the top of your game.
Things move quickly in this industry, however, and a little over eight months later, your upcoming products — the announced ones, anyway — have suddenly become among the least desirable on your two chosen platforms, Android and Windows Phone 7. Now of course with the rigid hardware restrictions Microsoft has imposed on the latter OS, it’s much harder for OEMs to differentiate from one another, but in our opinion, Dell and Samsung have managed to outshine the pack with the Venue Pro and Focus / Omnia 7, respectively. The build quality on the Venue Pro is fantastic, while Samsung’s handsets offer an unmatched Super AMOLED display along with (in the case of the Focus, at least) highly-desirable expandable storage options.
When it comes to Android, things are looking even worse, if only because that platform allows for so much variation in handset design. While your two CES debuts, the Inspire 4G for AT&T and Thunderbolt on Verizon, are somewhat exciting due to their mobile broadband speeds, the rest of their specs scream Desire HD — a fine device, to be sure, but nothing close to the Samsung Infuse 4G, both new Motorola smartphones (Atrix 4G on AT&T and Droid Bionic on Verizon), nor the LG Revolution (not to mention the Optimus 2X and Optimus Black). Even the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc is sexier than the majority of handsets in your lineup.
Where the competition is offering dual-core processors, 4.5-inch screens, qHD resolutions, and iPhone-beating-thinness, you are basically giving consumers the same phones that you sold us last year, with a few tweaks. Unfortunately, this has become somewhat of a trend for HTC, which pushed out generation after generation of devices based around the 524MHz Qualcomm MSM7xxx — a once capable chipset that quickly began to feel long in the tooth and was never endowed with the proper drivers to unlock its ATI graphics capabilities. You were also somewhat late in bringing WVGA devices to the US, and now both 802.11n and Bluetooth 3.0 seem slow in coming to your handsets.
With Mobile World Congress just around the corner, things could change in a heartbeat; for all we know, you may have a whole lineup of dual-core, high-res, razor-thin smartphones waiting in the wings. However, we can’t shake this nagging feeling that you’re resting on your laurels somewhat — that you’ve caught the same destination disease which caused Palm to churn out endless boring Treos. Maybe as you’ve grown it’s become more difficult to fast track innovative products, or procure enough cutting-edge components for large scale production. Maybe you’ve decided that the mainstream consumer doesn’t want the most advanced features, and you’ve adopted a Nokia-like strategy of moving as much volume as possible.
Whatever the reason(s) may be, your most die-hard fans are growing dissatisfied with your offerings and moving on to other brands. If you’re okay with that, then we’ll just have to call it a good run and part ways amicably. But if you want to hold on to the folks who turned XDA into a powerhouse and your company into a household name, then please, HTC, step up your game.