An HTC Amazon smartphone is a step backwards

HTC needs help. Despite a restructuring of its smartphone lineup, compelling models like the flagship One, and investing heavily in advertising, it’s facing unprecedented losses. We’ve heard about efforts to shake things up a little in upper management, but even with the progress that may bring, the company still has some tricky times to get through before it might find itself on more solid ground.

That means that HTC is open to plenty of unusual ideas, looking for that spark that will really help revitalize things and get the company moving back on track. Maybe that could take the form of the smartwatch we’ve heard HTC might release next year. But there’s another possibility it might be considering that, to me at least, sounds very much like a step in the wrong direction

Last week, a recurring rumor popped back up, talking about Amazon’s efforts towards releasing a smartphone of its own. This idea’s been tossed around for ages, but this year in particular, it’s been gaining momentum and starting to look like it might actually happen.

pchouThese new rumors claimed that Amazon wasn’t working alone on this project, but had recruited HTC’s help. Granted, none of this is confirmed, but after the first rumor of this association broke, additional sources chimed-in. While the details may be off, there’s a fair enough chance that we’re on to something here.

Specifically, we heard that HTC had been working on three general designs for Amazon smartphones, with progress on one such model being quite far along. The rumors were careful to explain that Amazon hasn’t committed to actually releasing any of these devices, but continues to keep that option open.

Amazon didn’t comment on the rumors, but HTC offered just enough to serve as a non-committal acknowledgment that the idea wasn’t patently crazy, confirming an interest in “co-branding and collaborating with carriers and other technology brands.”

Well, good; more business for HTC, right? I don’t think it’s anywhere near that simple.

HTC FirstFor one, HTC hasn’t had the best experiences lately with this sort of bunking-up with other companies, and making phones for them. Need I dredge up the horror show that was the consumer reaction to the Facebook-centric HTC First?

But more than that, this sort of role is straight-up out of HTC’s past. If you’re new to smartphones, I’ll forgive a little ignorance, but any of you who have been following this game for a while know of HTC’s past making electronics that were ultimately sold under another company’s brand name – working as an original design manufacturer. It made stuff for HP and Palm, before eventually moving on to create a name for itself with its own devices.

It may be a leap to suggest that creating an Amazon phone (or three of them) necessarily means that HTC is drifting back into those old habits, but it sure ain’t a sign of the contrary.

And an Amazon smartphone made by HTC might retain some level of HTC’s own branding, but I’ve got major doubts – I think the best-case scenario would be something like we see in Nexus devices, sold without prominent mention of the manufacturer, but still retaining an unobtrusive logo hiding somewhere.

Before you start pointing out how HTC made the Nexus One and that didn’t mean the company was giving up on plans for its own phones, I think there are a few important differences to consider. Plenty of OEMs make Nexus hardware for Google now and then – some year after year – but they’re not committing the resources towards multiple Nexus models at the same time, nor are they doing so while in quite the precarious situation HTC now finds itself. Amazon’s got the resources to bring HTC a lot of money for a smartphone lineup to call its own, and HTC is just desperate enough to get seriously caught up in that.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot to like about building phones for someone else. You don’t need to sweat the advertising, the distribution, or even the user support. If you’re a company that’s not ready to compete on the same level as everyone else, it can be a really great starting point. But HTC has already stood there, and having since moved on, a return to such practices would be nothing short of a disaster.

I say this not out of any particular distaste for Amazon, but out of my affinity for HTC. I really want the company to find its voice, as it were, and to get us to a place where people really are excited about HTC phones again. An HTC-made Amazon phone just isn’t going to do that – not in any appreciable manner – and threatens to divert resources from where HTC really needs to be allocating them: building the next great smartphone for itself.

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bits Read more about Stephen Schenck!