HTC: Windows Phone's unexpected saviour?
Much has been made of Nokia's status as the pre-eminent Windows Phone OEM. Indeed, amidst the hullabaloo of this week's Nokia event and the forthcoming iPhone launch, news of HTC's planned event for September 19th hasn't quite created the same level of anticipation. This is understandable: over the past year, Nokia alone can be said to have truly invested the money and effort needed to push Windows Phone "mindshare" beyond its previously abysmal levels. While the overall market share may not reflect this, it is now a fact that Nokia ships more Windows Phones than any other OEM by a significant margin. What is also no secret is the fact that for the remaining Windows Phone OEMs, Microsoft's platform stands as a secondary strategy to Android with a fraction of the investment and product portfolio.
Meanwhile, the wake of the Apple-Samsung trial has left many speculating a brighter future for Windows Phone by way of a presumed wariness among Android OEMs of the platform's vulnerability to legal action in the future. At the same time, many have dismissed this notion as largely insignificant in the grand scheme of things. However, there is one Android OEM that could in the very near future demonstrate a clear re-adjustment of its priorities, for a different and arguably more concrete reason.
HTC saw record profits in 2010 thanks to strong Android sales. 2011, however, saw earnings begin to slide, and while the company may still be in the black, 2012 hasn't been kind on them either. Once hailed as one of the greatest things the Android platform had ever seen, the One X now registers but a blip on the consumer radar next to the Samsung Galaxy S III, with sales to match. There are many theories as to why; chief among them is the severe saturation of Android OEMs in the market, most of whom are even less successful than HTC.
Where previously, companies like HTC and Samsung merely "reaffirmed their commitment" to the Windows Phone platform, seemingly so as to keep a toe in that pond while the other foot was wading around in the Android ocean, HTC's president of global sales and marketing Jason Mackenzie has now given the press a much stronger message. Bottom line: "a more balanced portfolio" from Taipei is in the works. Going so far as to acknowledge that "All these OEMs have been giving their varsity products to Android, and Windows hasn't had really strong super-phones", Mackenzie rounded up by saying "As a company HTC knows how to change, and so we're optimistic that we can change with this new market".
Questions still remain, however. Regardless of a change in strategy on HTC's part, Windows Phone still has an uphill battle convincing consumers to make the switch, and if the Finns are still finding it so difficult to make a dent in iOS and Android's market share with the Lumia range, why would the Taiwanese have it any easier?
One could point to the distinct difference in brand image between Nokia and HTC. Where the Nokia name continues to carry baggage as a legacy mobile phone maker in some consumers' minds, HTC maintains a fresh, almost cutting-edge image often mentioned in the same breath as Apple and Samsung. At the same time, how Nokia fares with Windows Phone 8 versus Windows Phone 7.5 is still up in the air, and it could be the case that Microsoft's Windows 8 push, coupled with the vast improvements in Windows Phone 8, stimulates Windows Phone growth in a way not possible before.
The unveiling of the rumoured 8X, 8S and 8V will provide a clearer picture of just what HTC means by "balance". Ultimately, however, Nokia may be instrumental in the ascent of Microsoft's mobile effort, but the result of a dramatically stepped up investment in Windows Phone by HTC could be the very thing to cement the platform's "viable third ecosystem" ambitions in a way Nokia could never accomplish on its own.