HTC needs to step up its game

by: Simon HillNovember 16, 2012

Samsung may be sprinting off into the sunset in the race to be the biggest Android smartphone manufacturer, but the struggle for second is far from clear cut. A new wave of devices and the patronage of Google, as the force behind the latest Nexus release, signal a major move from another South Korean electronics giant in the shape of LG. Now everyone’s favorite Taiwanese underdog is losing its rhythm and falling behind – it’s time for HTC to pull it together and get back in the race.

From out of nowhere

HTC was founded in 1997, but it wasn’t until the company adopted Android over a decade later that it really hit the big time. In 2008 it released the HTC Dream (T-Mobile G1) which was the world’s first Android smartphone. The Android platform surprised everyone to quickly emerge as real competition for Apple’s iPhone line and HTC struck while the iron was hot. The HTC Hero was followed by the hugely successful HTC Desire. The company even released the first 4G phone way ahead of the competition in the summer of 2010. The HTC Evo 4G was a big hit.

To smartphone success

By the third quarter of 2011 HTC was in a comfortable third place behind Samsung and Apple in the smartphone manufacturer charts. The brand was seen as a cool alternative to its competitors. HTC was synonymous with high build quality and there’s no doubt it enhanced the Android experience with the Sense user interface, which was far superior to TouchWiz or any of its other competitor’s efforts.

With the cash piling up and brand awareness at an all-time high everything was looking pretty rosy for HTC and then it went wrong.

The downward spiral

HTC’s fall from grace has been pretty spectacular. The company took a dive from that Q3 2011 peak and it’s still in free-fall. So where did things go wrong? HTC spent a lot of money on a range of investments and partnerships and saw very little return. More importantly it failed to carry on the word-of-mouth momentum it had built as a desirable brand and engaged in some embarrassingly bad marketing attempts. Most importantly the device line-up became confused and samey; the cutting edge was blunted.

As Android evolved and improved, even the Sense overlay began to look bloated and stale. HTC’s failures in the market sat against a backdrop of litigation from Apple which was only just settled. HTC agreed to pay Microsoft a royalty on each Android handset a long time ago. Licensing and legal troubles obviously didn’t help, but the real problem was misfires in the marketplace.

Muddy marketing, declining quality, and a lack of focus

What does the HTC brand actually stand for? Do consumers understand the difference between an HTC and any other Android smartphone? What’s going to entice them to buy an HTC? Where are all the great smartphones?

The company has repeatedly failed to answer these questions. The One series should have been what the Galaxy series was for Samsung, but while Samsung’s flagship was picked up by all of the major carriers, Verizon passed on the One series. The troubles started before that.

Carrying on the leading status established with the Evo 4G, HTC released the Thunderbolt on Verizon in early 2011, which was the first Android smartphone to support Verizon’s LTE 4G instead of WiMAX. The shine of those blazing fast speeds was considerably dulled by the limited battery life. It’s a risk to lead the market with new innovations and the 4G rollout turned out to be far slower than expected. Consumers have not rushed to buy 4G smartphones and since HTC had bet on it in a big way that was bad news for the company.

Where are you going with this?

HTC had enjoyed a great deal of success with a fairly modest range of devices. The bulk of them were high-end, top of the Android market smartphones, and there were occasional forays into the budget end with releases like the HTC Wildfire. In the summer of 2011 HTC lost the plot and deviated from its usual pattern. There was a series of questionable releases like the BlackBerry-looking HTC ChaCha, the disappointing HTC Salsa with its pointless Facebook button, and the girly HTC Rhyme which came off as patronizing and misogynistic (women don’t need good phones they just like purple accessories).

Even HTC’s attempts to continue to innovate seemed doomed to failure. The HTC Evo 3D tried to jump on the bandwagon of another long-touted trend that failed to take off. There simply wasn’t much interest in the idea of being able to take your own 3D photos and videos, and the Evo 3D came under fire for limited battery life as well.

The names were confusing. Tagging 4G, S and + onto the end of familiar model names did not offer any clarity for consumers. Switching to X, XE and XL was not an improvement. HTC was still producing some good smartphones at the top end, with consistently good reviews from critics, but consumers were no longer biting.

How to fall behind in advertising

Obviously few companies have deep pockets like Apple and Samsung, but it’s not a simple matter of how much you spend, it matters what you spend it on. HTC seemed to throw a lot of weight behind the Beats audio partnership, but did it sell a lot of phones? Too many of the ads, from HTC and the carriers, focused on one aspect of an HTC device, like the audio or the camera, and failed to show them off as the cutting edge Android smartphones they were.

Staging a comeback


We’ve seen HTC fall, but the company still has a tremendous amount of goodwill. To some extent it has been hurt by its own attempts to innovate because the first generation of something new always comes with teething problems. That reputation for making great hardware is deserved, but HTC needs to learn from its mistakes and sort its marketing strategy out. Given the right release many people will come back to the fold. The HTC Droid DNA on Verizon looks like a step in the right direction.

My last HTC was the Desire and at the time it was quite simply the best smartphone around. That’s the reason I now have a Galaxy S3 in my pocket. If HTC can hit those high notes again then I won’t be alone in returning. I have more affection for HTC as a brand than for Samsung or LG, but the company needs to step up its game, and fast.

  • clell

    They also need to STOP with all the stupid carrier exclusives in the US. Its almost impossible to get any of their new highend devices if you’re not on AT&T or Verizon. They keep making devices for those carriers and they end up being exclusives. So in order to get it you have to move to that carrier or pay full price for an unlocked version. These exclusives are just a waste of time because the carriers barely advertize the devices for them. If thats the main reason they do this so they dont have to spend money on advertizing, they’re getting ripped off. This approach has not made them any more money nor has it increased their brand recognition if they ever had any. Stop releasing so many devices, that was supposed to be their mission statement but they have gone back on it. And quit trying to dictate what you THINK people want. LISTEN. People are telling you what they want but you keep trying to be like Apple and Samsung. You dont have their clout. Just make highend devices and put them on all the carriers and market the hell of them. Hardly ever see any HTC device commericals from HTC. THey’re always from AT&T and they do not showcase what the device can do. They brad more about the network than the device. Carrier exclusives are whats killng this company.

    • MikeCiggy

      Didn’t read your entire comment BUT, if they could release the DNA accross all carriers and maybe just give exclusive colors to Verizon they could really have a winner on their hands. Take notes from Samsung, tell the carriers to shove it if they want to sell phones they sell them how HTC wants not what Verizon wants with DROID. Let DROID die.

      • yobbei

        I’m sure it is not entirely HTC’s call. HTC is not as popular now and they don’t have leverage to negotiate.

  • Marky

    Back in late 2010 when I was buying my first android phone, I opted to get HTC. Unfortunately their units were so hard to find in my home country. Samsung and LG were easier to get. So I got LG instead. Too bad.

  • padlock1

    I had the HTC Legend…a great phone..until the screen froze after 8 months of use and HTC would not honour its warranty! Now I buy every phone for cash (unlocked exports sets from Singapore..all without warranty…as its not reallly worth the paper its written on) and I have not ventured back to HTC. Whatever they have to offer, I will do everything in my power to find something else (not to hard these days). Copy cat or catch up is not playing the game…you need to stay a step ahead…HTC is nowadays well behind the curve, simple as that.

  • getyouracttogetherhtc

    This is why I also carry an SGS3 in my pocket… And ordered a OneX+ for the wife. I look forward to the day when I carry an HTC again.

  • HTC, to get back to the top, you should release high end smartphones (as the Droid DNA), with bigger batteries, and do a better quality check to your devices. Look at the Desire HD – GPS problems, One X – screen and build problems, and who knows whats next.
    Also, stop making carrier exclusives! On the beginning of the year you were on the right direction: 3 devices, One X, One S and One V each one was international and they were just great. 3 models, one for each group of persons and that’s it. Anyway, if you ask me you should release: phablet (~5.5″), big phone (~4.7″), mid phone (~4″) with the same great specs (for people who want’s a great peice of hardware, and a smaller screen), and an small phone (~3.5″) which will be cheap and less-powerful.

    But then, devices were released and quality issues started to show up. This made people not want to buy this device.
    Also, as said in the article, you should make better ads!!! Make posters for under-construction building, bus, train and metro station, make TV ads. This is the only way people will know your devices!
    Give us removable battery and micro SD slot! Samsung does it, and they are at the top! Stop learning from Apple, there is a reason they are not at the top anymore.
    Add cool features to your device as Samsung do: popup play/note, smart stay, S pen and more. Your creative, you could think about something.
    Make HTC Sense awesome, but less buggy and slow. Keep app designs, but make thing more stock. Why do we need another widget menu? put it in the app drawer as Google wants to!
    Release as much sources as you can, and if there is an update to android, you make it for a device and then don’t release it from any reason (like the Desire HD’s Android 4.0 update), release the kernel source code so developers could make something out of it!

    If someone want’s to add anything, comment this post. “Plus 1” if you agree with me, and tell people to do this to. Then, we will send it to HTC. Maybe we will see the device of our dreams!

    • yobbei

      One X has no screen or build problem it is a well-built phone.

      The only problem is it only has 16gb on board and no sd card slot.

      • Look at the very first threads on XDA developers One X General forum. (didn’t check it later)
        There were problems with yellow spots on the screen and things like that. Anyone that got hurt from this problems will never buy an HTC again until this will be changed. Including me.

      • On a Clear Day

        Well, there is also the problem of the anemic built in battery and the fact you can’t put in a spare.

        • Battery life is now good on the One X. Trouble is, negative comments about battery life stick around on the web, and people think the current One X and One XL phones still have that problem.

  • defamz

    Correct me if I’m wrong but the new Droid DNA has no SD slot and non removable battery. This does not aid in it’s comeback but only hurts it more; for that reason I’ll not be back to HTC until they have it all right.

  • casualsuede

    I completely agree with you Mr. Simon Hill. Knowing
    a few people in the company, especially the marketing department, those who are
    directors and below agree with your viewpoint, but those who are VP’s and above,
    don’t seem to get it, or worse, don’t know what to do to fix the

    However, to those who simply say “Stop with the exclusives”, that is an easy comment to say, but difficult to do in reality. That’s because your marketing spend will double. Not only do you have to provide more support to the carriers than you would if you have an exclusive, but you have to spend a minimum amount of money that will entice the carrier to even range the device. Only a few companies have the dollars to support that amount, that’s why bigger companies like LG, Motorola and Nokia aren’t able to do the same thing.

  • Jeromeonchrome

    I myself have always been a fan of htc. i was one of the first to purchase the t-mobile g1 when it was first introduced. I loved that phone and never had any problems with it. I am a huge fan of htc sense overlay, i love the customization. I purchased the htc rezound but really didnt want to go to the expensive verizon carrier. But to me the phone is awesome. The battery life isnt top of the line but it gets the job done. I love the look and feel of the rezound and plus it was also one of the first devices to have 720p when it was released. So of course i already pre ordered the htc droid dna. I admit the no mircro sd and small battery kinda had me scared but the phone is beautiful upgrade from my htc rezound and i look forward to enjoying this device. I hope htc start selling more devices and get back to making money. I would hate to see them as another Rim, nokia, or motorola of the world

  • yobbei

    I think the problem with HTC now is that they are fighting an uphill battle.

    A few has mentioned that they should not make their phones carrier exclusive which I totally agree but I don’t think this is entirely HTC’s call. If you are popular and well-known like Samsung then all carriers want to sell your phone and that’s why Samsung can make the call and name their phone Galaxy S 3 and really build a strong brand name. For HTC, Verizon actually chose not to carry the One line and I’m sure Verizon make sure the DNA has the stupid Droid name in front.

    At this point I think HTC needs to do something radical. So what if Google didn’t pick you to make the nexus phone? Make your own version of stock android phone and promise official updates within 3 months of a new android release (being stock would make the software upgrade a lot easier to make, without worrying about sense). Keep the xda guys happy by releasing the source quick and without hassles (samsung consistently release their source even before the phone is released!) Sell that phone without contract on your own online store just like what google is doing then you can price your phone low and put yourself back onto the map.

    Hardware-wise listen to your customer! If everyone wants sd-slot give them a god-damned sd slot!! And at least give them some option on the on-board storage!! Not everyone can live on 16gb without expansion!! If you go high-end you want to make sure your phone has no compromise and really is top of the line.

    I have the north america one x (one xl) and I have to say it is very well-built and the screen is still ranked top among all devices (ranked even higher than the new droid dna 1080p screen) but this kind of stuff don’t show up in the spec sheet (oh one x has 1gb ram oh gs3 has 2gb and sd slot i’ll pick the gs3 !!! lol)

    please HTC please wake up and give samsung some competition because i seriously want some choices with my next phone!

  • My first and only HTC phone was a HTC Freestyle on ATT. Horrible phone. Yes, it wasn’t a smart phone, but at the time I was not in the market for one. After countless attempts to get it fixed and/or switched for another phone, I was forced to leave ATT for T-mobile. Many friends of mine have HTC phones and I greatly envy them, as I am now on a LG G2x that has seen, or not seen, any attention from LG or T-mobile in ways of Android updates. Rant over, I would still love to own another HTC phone. The hardware always looks great, I fell in love with sense early, and they are generally nice phones. My only HTC phone forced me to leave ATT, but I am thankful for that now and do not blame my dismissal on HTC. They could have made a better phone, but I could have also made myself a more informed consumer before buying it. I hope that HTC can make a run for it and if they do, I will most likely buy another HTC phone. I don’t think that my weird loyalty to HTC can be found in too many consumers though. Which could serve as a big problem for HTC. Good luck.

  • Frank

    You never mentioned the lack of updates. Launching multiple phones and never providing the OS updates is what I hate in HTC. Not that other companies are better but HTC is very bad.

    Why would you buy a phone from a company who releases a new phone every other month and makes the one you bought obsolete with no support. I have the One X from work and again still waiting for HTC. I had a choice of Galaxy Nexus or One S for my wife and I went with the Nexus. Same for my new phone, I will be buying a Nexus 4.

  • cmatnerd

    Before people start complaining about the battery they should probably go check out XDA reviews of the DNA. The storage is a whole other topic which I’ve managed to come to terms with.

    I’ll even provide the link if shuts up the naysayers:

    • le_lutin

      Your link points some user’s experience with the DNA. I have no idea who that user is, if he is a trusted source or if he is just making the whole thing up. This proves very little.

    • le_lutin

      FYI, quote from The Verge’s review of the DNA. “The battery life is terrible”

  • frank

    embrace your devs HTC; don’t piss us off by being all closed and keeping kernels from us. Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way. your EVO3d ROCKED but you didn’t get any devs on board locking everything up – there’s still a dearth of apps out there and they all mostly require your stupid sense (which you keep locked up). Open Api, open source, open/friendly to devs and you’ll rock again. I personally love you guys still a bit and want to see you succeed. Sense is sexy but bloated and closed.

  • Rex

    Time was when HTC was considered the most geek friendly, by making it easy to root and change the ROM etc. Back when I had a Galaxy S2, I kept hearing how much easier it was to root an HTC phone compared to others, and I marveled at a company that actually did not try to restrict the power users and hackers from tinkering with the phone.
    I bought the One X thinking I was getting into that, and boy was I wrong. The rooted version of the phone will simply refuse to download official updates, and to root it also you need the permission of HTC by registering on their developer site for an unlock code.

    Stop alienating geeks and power users. They are the ones who will evangelize your phone among the less tech savvy friends, and if you make them happy they become your own word of mouth sponsors.

    The second sin – woefully under specced low end phones. The Desire C is priced around the same as a Samsung Galaxy Duos, but the latter has a GHz class CPU while this one, with the more resource intensive Sense UI has a 600 MHz one. Meanwhile, the marginally pricier Sony Experia U has a freakin dual core CPU!

    Not everyone has the budget for the One series, people who buy the lower range phones will simply dismiss them as being sucky.

  • craigd152

    I’m a huge fan of HTC but one of there biggest mistakes is not listening to there fans. enuff said!

  • mikkej2k

    Expandable removable memory. Expandable removable battery. Keep build quality , and choice of materials high. Success.

  • JoshuaB

    Dear HTC please take better care of me…

    My first HTC phone was a Touch Diamond (after a long line of Nokia and a misstep to aSamsung clam-phone), then the awesome HD2 (with Windows Mobile then converted it to Android), the Desire HD (for her), the Inspire 4G (for me due to it supporting my carrier), the One X (international 32GB instead of the XL with 16GB due to want of better XDA support), and Flyer tablet 16GB Wifi… I have also purchased a Nexus 3rd Generation, Acer Iconia 10 tablet, and Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. so I have experienced other brands.

    I love HTC products and my hand-me-downs go to other family members and so on and so forth, hence I encourage others to buy HTC products.

    The thing I love about HTC products is their build quality, features, connecting as a drive-mapped USB hard-disk instead of as a media device, and …….. Sense.

    Lately, HTC has been delivering products that make me question why I should remain loyal to their brand.

    1… Give me MicroSD because 16-32 GB on-board ain’t enough space because not every where has wonderful data networks to stream my media, and data plans are still ridiculously expensive.

    2… Allow me to choose to purchase or convert to a vanilla version of Android and/or a vanilla version Sense (without the carrier bloatware) so that I am not hamstrung waiting for the local carrier to graciously decide to roll-out an update for my phone… this is why I run custom roms such as Android Revolution HD because at least they roll out the latest fixes and updates within days of them being made available not months later.

    3… else make it super-easy to unlock the boot-loader so that I can install a custom rom and have vanilla Android or the most up to date version of Sense.

    4… Removable battery, yes … but not as important as having microSD.

    5… connect as USB Harddisk and not media device… I need the drive mapping with my PC… else I would just buy a Nexus instead.

    6… FM radio yes.

    7… A HTC tablet… I know you probably have not got the courage to step back into that market, but then your offerings were too overpriced at the time. I have a HTC Flyer (two of then actually) and I use one of them on a daily basis for work, and on the other I am running an ICS ported from the One V (it is visually awesome on a tablet).

    So, give me MicroSD, easy unlocked boot loader & rooting, drive mapping … so that I will continue to buy HTC devices and hand them down to others… else Samsung 4S next time for me.

    P.S. I do want a buy a DNA / J Butterfly type of phone but 16 GB is a sick joke… today it is 32 GB minimum… either give me it on-board or at least allow me to install a MicroSD else I wont buy your product.

    P.S.S. I am in Australia

  • boycott htc

    now that htc has made a deal with crapple, i will never buy another htc crap.

  • Ivan Budiutama

    Get rid of Beats Audio! with that kind of price, I expect quality of the engine and UI firmware (HTC Sense). Unfortunately, mostly I always feel the HTC price went too far just because the “authenticate Beats Audio by Dr. Dre” and honestly, I don’t think Beats Audio really worth the price increase.

    While at it, you might want to raise the hype on the your device(s) under development. The key of Samsung GS3 success is the hype engine, people already knew about the phone as far as 5 months before release, yes including the new feature that is your sense exclusive. Get some HTC Exclusive Phablet with Photoshop level of features application, people will go crazy about that, yes, still get rid of the over-hyped, over-priced Beats, just a small part of people really care about Beats Audio. Seriously guys, I will choose Sense UI all the time compare to Touchwiz UI. But every time I look at HTC devices, I always have a feeling they are focusing on the part that was less functional or essential to most people choosing Smartphone.

  • stormlcc

    u left one major, super important thing that leads to it’s fall – HTC pissed off too many of it’s existing customers (like me) by not giving us the updates we want (my DHD resorted to custom jelly bean roms). coupled with it’s PR dept talking BS about why they can’t fit their (non)Sense into the update and our prevous ‘flagship’ phone spec isn’t good enough for it, this pisses us even more. if u can’t keep your existing customers, how r u going to get new customers?

  • michael

    when you buy htc you are paying crapple so boycott htc

  • The HTC J Butterfly and the Droid DNA look brilliant. They’re ahead of the pack right now. From a sales perspective their main problem may be the incredibly cheap Nexus 4 powerhouse with its quick OS updates direct from Google,

  • AusAnt

    I currently have the Desire HD. Its only real disappointment has been an inadequate battery for my usage needs. Also, love the microSD slot and only wish it could take larger than 32GB cards. I like the removable battery. So for me any new smartphone must have these features.

    Tip: Something that HTC could try (given how more and more people are looking for larger batteries) could be thinner and thicker battery packs. That way if the standard battery (thin phone) doesn’t meet our needs we can order the larger and thicker battery rather than start looking and planning on another phone. As far as I can find, Samsung Galaxy S3 kind of have this option where you can order an aftermarket thicker battery and back cover to accommodate thicker battery.

    Just my 2 cents.