HTC's Momentum in the Mobile Market

Hi guys! I wrote this article a couple months ago well before the HTC One was unveiled, but I still feel like it has some relevance. I thought maybe you guys could give me some feedback on the article and voice your own thoughts on HTC's current position in the market.

Here's a link to it on my own blog: http://voidist.net/?p=949

The HTC One X+. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired

In recent years, HTC has been a major player in creating some of the most beautifully crafted and innovative smartphones on the market. Despite the success of big competitors like Samsung and Apple, HTC’s momentum has allowed them to become one of the biggest names in mobile tech today. What drives their success? How much further can the HTC name go in terms of positioning themselves among the giants?

Since the advent of Android, HTC has rapidly gained popularity, capturing much attention from the tech world. In 2008, they acquired design firm One & Co. with Scott Croyle at the helm, dead set on putting heavy focus on better phone design. At the time, Chief Innovation Officer Horace Luke was the linchpin responsible for producing some of HTC’s early Android hits like the HTC Hero, Legend, and Desire. Being a once proud owner of a Hero myself, I instantly fell in love with Android. HTC had persisted in innovating the design of their brand and reinventing themselves year after year. This sets them apart in an industry often dominated by those only banking on higher spec numbers, but dismissing thoughtful aesthetics and user experiences.

In April of 2011, Horace Luke resigned as CIO for personal reasons and assigned Scott Croyle to take his place. As Luke was responsible for many of HTC’s past accomplishments, you could safely say that Croyle had some pretty big shoes to fill as VP of Design. The iPhone 4 was making waves all across the world with its new Retina Display which had completely blindsided the tech world taking everyone by surprise. Samsung’s Galaxy SII was also making its rounds receiving much praise being touted as “the best Android smartphone, ever” by nearly every tech journalist that got their hands on it. With the impending release of the next iterations of Samsung and Apple’s flagship devices creeping up, it was up to HTC to create something grand.

About a year after Horace Luke’s resignation, HTC released the highly praised One X to the masses and reclaimed Android supremacy. It was — and still is — arguably one of the most beautifully designed phones of 2012 right next to Nokia’s latest line of Lumia phones and the iPhone 5. Shortly after, however, Samsung’s hugely successful feature-rich Galaxy SIII presented yet another obstacle for HTC to conquer. Though the One X — with its best-of-class display and race car features — received very high review scores across the board, it still wasn’t enough to outsell the juggernaut that was the Galaxy SIII. The Droid DNA could have been the next big thing, but considering the hit that HTC took in their Q3 2012 earnings presentation, it looks like they need to think of something more than simply taking part in a specs arms race with their competitors.

HTC and Scott Croyle have shown that they clearly put a lot of passion into creating their hardware. We already know they have the capability to produce beautiful phones, but what they need to focus on now is offering something that can only be found under the HTC umbrella. Getting there, however, will take a few extra steps before the ball gets rolling.

The bullet point spec race is getting stale

In 2012 alone, HTC has released more than 10 phones running Android. Aside from the confusing names given to all of them, this seems like a lot of phones for an average consumer to pick from even if they were divided among 4 US carriers. Why not take the resources put into multiple lines of phones and instead put them into a smaller line of even higher quality? One budget model, a mid-range, and flagship phone seems more than sufficient, if you ask me. Sure it may be a risk at first, but Samsung is doing just fine marketing both the Galaxy SIII and Note II. By delivering fewer phones, perhaps more resources can be put into developing better battery technology to improve the less than stellar battery life in all of HTC’s current lineup.

htc one x

In terms of software optimization, HTC’s Sense UI needs a major overhaul. While it may not have been too much of a problem on Gingerbread, Sense 4.0+ leaves much to be desired. When your custom UI buries much of the benefits of having a stock Android 4.1 phone — one being the performance found in “Project Butter” — then you’ve got a major problem on your hands. With fluid performance comes a better user experience. It is imperative that HTC simplifies their strategy on creating a more efficient custom UI if they hope to satisfy increasingly hard-to-please mobile consumers.

Once battery life and software performance issues have been ironed out, they should then produce a unique feature or service that will outshine basic spec sheets for years to come. Take an existing niche and improve on it. With the Galaxy Note, Samsung took a risk and targeted a niche of users yearning for a larger screen with customized software made for the form factor and ended up selling much more than anyone in the tech industry anticipated.

When the concept videos of Microsoft’s fabled Courier tablet surfaced, there was a collective gasp among geeks and creatives alike that fell head-over-heels for the concept. There’s a market out there for it, but unfortunately, the Courier never came to be, leaving the door wide open for anyone willing to take the risk and develop such a device. Could a dual-screen tablet with great battery life and a fluid, intuitive user interface ever exist and sell millions? There’s only one way to find out, and this could be just one of many niches HTC has the opportunity to capitalize on.

The bullet point spec race is getting stale. The mobile market is caught in a never ending tug-of-war between manufacturers trying to one-up each other with bigger and faster hardware. Benchmark scores can only go so far in terms of real world use. Hardware is nothing without compelling software to take advantage of it. It’s important for all manufacturers to realize that the value of the ecosystem is slowly overshadowing the importance of a device’s clock speed and display resolution.

HTC already has everything they need to take their brand to the next level. All that’s next is for them to take some risks. Take the design of the One X and run with it. Start by [greatly] improving Sense UI and battery life and everything else will fall into place. From there, it will only be a matter of time until HTC becomes king of the hill and keeps it that way for a long time to come.