After having a disastrous 2012, HTC is out to make 2013 its year. With intense competition from the likes of Sony (the Xperia Z and the Xperia ZL), LG (the Optimus G 2 and the Optimus G Pro), Huawei (with its huge fleet of high end devices like the Ascend Mate) and the leader, Samsung (the Galaxy S4 is the device to beat no doubt), this remains to be seen. However, what we know is that the device it launched to spearhead its assault this year is worth it. Having won the hearts of bloggers and tech pundits globally even before it goes on sale sometime next month, how far will the HTC One take the troubled Taiwanese company?
The HTC One has been praised for its sleek Aluminum unibody design and its redesigning of its proprietary Sense software. Whereas the skinning Android OEMs do has always been the bone people pick to dismiss the devices, all are in agreement that HTC got it right with the Sense 5. With Blinkfeed, the skinning has been spared the usual bashing and trolling. With the company’s focus on ditching the ‘more is better’ megapixel brigade and banking all its hopes on a 4 megapixel camera (choosing to focus on the ultrapixels that enhance image clarity when 13 megapixel is becoming the gold standard) and such nitty gritties like Zoe, the company is really trying to be different. Building on its longtime reputation of making the most beautiful mobile devices design-wise, it seems like HTC is ready to reclaim the glories it has lost to its South Korean rival, Samsung, on the Android front (remember HTC was the leader in the first few years of Android’s existence).
Does HTC have all that it takes?
I have been following keenly on the practices of the Taiwanese device maker over the last month or so and here I share my thoughts.
- First things first, the HTC CEO and President, Peter Chou, has stated that he would resign if the HTC One does not sell as expected. This is the highest level of commitment and should tell us that someone somewhere is really focused on having things work out this time round.
- As I correctly stated in my end of 2012 outlook, what really let HTC down in 2012 was its poor marketing. When the HTC One X debuted in early 2012, way before the Galaxy S III, it was lauded as the best only for it to be outsold by Samsung’s offering. From the statements they’ve been making, HTC is simply saying, “not anymore.” The company has stated that it will focus strongly on marketing the device widely. What they mean by that I don’t know but I hope it means that they will diversify and get aggressive in markets it has altogether neglected. There is no strong HTC presence in many countries and their hype is only online. Locally, not many of us tend to focus on HTC devices since they’re only available through unofficial channels. They never make appearances in mainstream outlets. After salivating about the One X, it only became available on Safaricom shops towards the end of the year when another update of the device, the One X+ was already available and another far better device, the Butterfly (Droid DNA in the USA) had already been released. Correct me if I’m wrong but HTC has not pushed its marketing team in markets such as ours. I hope their new marketing push involves serious plans for emerging markets.
- Aggression. ‘Quietly Brilliant’ is their tagline. They’ve lived to that tagline for the last few years. It seems they’ve also decided to come out and remind us that they still exist and are still relevant. Look at the jibes HTC took prior to and immediately after the launch of the Galaxy S4. They want a share of the spotlight too. From their marketing chief bashing the Galaxy S4 (just like Apple’s marketing executive did) to their official Twitter account joining in with its #TheNextBigFlop jibe, there are finally some signs of change of strategy. Whether it is cheap attention seeking as you may call it or not, any publicity is good publicity.
- Incentives to upgrade. At the launch event of the HTC One on 19th February, HTC announced that it will be offering at least $100 for customers to trade in their old HTC high end devices in favour of the HTC One. This is to entice those already hooked to the HTC way of things to still stick to it and not be wowed by rival devices. If this will turn out to be a deal breaker I of course doubt but it is another step in the right direction.
- One and Only. HTC will not be launching any other flagship this year. The HTC One will be the one and only. This is good news and seems that it has learnt something from the likes of Apple and Samsung that to maintain a strong identity focus on the least number of flagship devices is what wins. The key word is flagship since Samsung, as everybody knows, makes multiple smartphones every quarter. Apple due to several factors key being its strong brand presence globally has always made billions in profits year in year out with just one smartphone. We will definitely see other HTC smartphones like the rumoured Desire P and S and the Butterfly 2 but there will only be one device in the One lineup, the HTC One. (see why focusing on just one flagship matters below)
- Premium. The strongest competitor to the HTC One is obviously the Galaxy S4. This is where HTC’s recent banter has been focused on: the GS4 is “plasticky” and doesn’t “feel premium”. While I find that argument petty, it is worth noting that the aluminum unibody design of the HTC One is a big plus. For those who have always stuck with other platforms due to such insecure reasons like “premium feel” can be tempted to join the most popular platform, Android, by the HTC One. The HTC One is by no means beautiful and the design aesthetics, the high build quality only serve to propel it to the very top of the devices that will give the Galaxy S4 a run for its money.
- Updates. HTC has been awful with upgrading its devices why lie? The 2011 lineup was the worst hit, none of the devices in that lineup saw (or will see) a Jelly Bean update. Heck, some of the devices it touted as flagships back then will forever be stuck on Gingerbread as far as official updates are concerned. HTC of course knows this and they have promised that the HTC One and other devices going forward will follow a different route: that of timely updates. That is encouraging to hear. HTC says that the new generation of its Sense custom skin will allow for incremental upgrades so that any new core features that Google releases in a new version of Android (like Google Now, Project Butter smoothness and Photosphere recently) can be incorporated without requiring a rework of its whole proprietary custom skin. Such sentiments are always welcome but until they’re in action, I’ll hold my horses and remain skeptical.
- Worthy sacrifices and trade-offs. In 2013, the race in the mobile device world is defined by anything above 5 inches. However, with the HTC One, HTC went against the grain and released a 4.7 inch smartphone with an impressive resolution of 468 packed pixels per inch. This is the best trade-off, in my opinion, that any OEM will make in 2013. HTC already has the Butterfly to represent it at the 5 inch table of honours (and madness if you ask me) but the 4.7 inch display is a big factor. Lately smartphones have been getting bigger and bigger displays. 4.7 inches to many will be quite reasonable because apart from browsing the internet, watching videos and playing games at the heart of the smartphone is the calling functionality which we always use. Such a display size is appropriate for easy one-handed operation and making and answering calls. There’s also that other trade-off we all know off: the decision to go against the conventional wisdom of more is better as far as megapixels are concerned. The ultrapixel camera on the HTC One has been touted as impressive. I will not pass my judgment on it since I haven’t used it but you’ve got to laud HTC for making the bold decision. Deciding to focus on better optics and not just more and more pixels is a good idea since the camera is today a very core feature of any smartphone. Whether the 4 MP camera will put off consumers from picking up the HTC One is upto the HTC marketing team to convince us what it is that you can do with the camera that you can’t do well with the 13 MP shooters of rival devices. So far it has done well to tell the world of the capabilities of the ultrapixel camera but it is what it continually whispers to the eyes of the consumer that will make sure the HTC One flies off the shelves throughout 2013.
Focusing on just one flagship means two things:
- All the marketing focus will be on just one device. This has always worked. How many times did you see ads of the S III online and every time you went to town?
- Consumers can easily identify it. Apart from those who are usually interested in devices, not many Kenyans know of HTC smartphones and if they do, HTC is just another device manufacturer who makes smartphones and nothing more. Focusing on just one device will enable such consumers to easily have a device that they can identify HTC as a device manufacturer with. Remember HTC’s 2011 flagship smartphone lineup? It was terribly confusing.
I won’t dwell on software additions and features added on since that is a war that the Galaxy S4 will surely win but only state that: on the software front, HTC’s tweaking of Android with the new Sense UI is something all my Sense loving friends will appreciate and if marketed appropriately, will draw in some few curious individuals, numbers that HTC, in its shaky situation, can’t afford to let go. Of course the two speakers on the front christened BoomSound are a big plus. Coupled with HTC’s Beats Audio integration, multimedia content consumption on this device should be the best.
You can check all the specs of the HTC One on GSMArena.