Is HTC finally starting to get the gist of how Android works?

Published: June 14, 2012

What used to be one of the most unique aspects of Android was choice. Devices, much to the dismay of manufacturers, come in three tiers that have sort of self-formed over the years: high-end, mid-range and low-end. Name your price and you can easily find an adequate device at just about any price point at or below $300 (with subsidization, of course). 

Notice, however, that I said that used to be a unique facet of Android. No doubt, Android still offers more choice than competitors, especially when it comes to broad device selection. But now that there are multiple generations of iPhones and Windows Phones to choose from, there are also choices in price point and quality tiers on other platforms and from other manufacturers, too.

Instead of Apple canceling the iPhone 4 when they announced the iPhone 4S, for instance, they simply dropped the subsidized and no-contract pricing and offered it as a lower-end option for those looking to save a buck. But the iPhone 3GS also stuck around for those not looking to spend any money for an iPhone. Voilà, three tiers (on top of the existing iPhone capacity tiers).

The same sort of choice can be found on Windows Phone, although Microsoft and its partner manufacturers aim to kill the spec sheet and any subsequent classification of devices. Nokia, for example, offered a seemingly high-end phone, the Lumia 900, for a common price among mid-range devices. Brand new, on launch day, the Nokia Lumia 900 only cost buyers $99.99 plus tax. And many of last year's Windows Phone models are still being sold, now only for a bargain.

And that's how this story goes; last year's flagships are this year's mid- to low-range devices. The specs that made a device high-end last year, place it in the middle of the pack this year. And the mid-range and low-end devices are discontinued and slip into oblivion.

Nonetheless, many Android manufacturers continue to aimlessly manufacture low-end devices. A prime example of just that can be found on any major carrier: the LG Enlighten on Verizon, the Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate on AT&T, LG Optimus Elite on Sprint or the Samsung Gravity Smart on T-Mobile. These are the devices that serve only to tarnish the Android name, devices that use all the bottom-of-the-bucket components to bring a low enough price tag that penny-pinching consumers just can't resist.

"Why get a flip phone for $20 when I can get a smartphone for free?" That's a question I heard countless customers ask when I worked as a wireless sales consultant. And I felt kind of bad for them. There was no talking them into a better device for $50 more. They wouldn't even budge on older devices with better specs, not for the same price or even sometimes free. Newer means better, right?

And this has never made sense to me. Why do these companies continue to waste millions upon millions of dollars on low-end phones that no one really wants anyway? Why not let the natural evolution of existing devices run its course? Make fewer phones and let high-end devices run a two-year course instead of just six or 12 months, and gradually drop the price as better models come out.

One manufacturer, however, may be seeing the bigger picture here … finally. Yesterday evening, HTC CEO Peter Chou told The Wall Street Journal that the company would be focusing on mid-range to high-end phones moving forward. "We don't want to destroy our brand image," said Chou to WSJ. (That is, any more than they already have. ChaCha, anyone?) Chou promised HTC will not use "cheap, cheap phones" to boost its market share and will instead continue to offer devices with "better materials" for a continued "premium experience".

Frankly, this is something all Android manufacturers should learn from and should take note of. Boosting market share by saturating an emerging market with low-end devices with a poor user experience isn't a business model that's built to last. The more attention HTC gives to high-end phones, the better. Low-end models will create themselves, in due time.

I can't speak for everyone. But in almost any case I can imagine, I would much rather buy a former flagship than a current low-end or mid-range device. Case in point: I would rather own one of the Galaxy S II devices over, say, the Galaxy Exhilarate on AT&T. Once the Galaxy S III launches, though, it's tough to say what will happen to Samsung's flagship line from last year. Carriers might drop the price and continue to sell them, or they might discontinue them altogether. Here's to hoping for the latter, and for Samsung to finally realize they don't need to continue making low-end phones.

Tell me, does HTC need to continue with low-end phones, for the sake of penny-punchers and emerging markets? Or should they stick to their most recent endeavor, the One series, which deals in only mid-range and high-end devices? Would you rather own a former, more well-known flagship device over a current day low-end phone? (Hint: think about developer support.)

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