How HTC can recover in 2013
This year has not been the greatest year in HTC history. Despite some great handsets in its lineup, the Taiwanese-based handset manufacturer faced more hurdles and tribulations than anything. And it has been outclassed by its competitors on many fronts.
Late last month, the latest comScore report was released, and it showed lackluster performance by some of Android's top partner manufacturers. At the expense of HTC, LG and Motorola, only Apple and Samsung gained market share as overall mobile OEMs in the States. Between the three-month period ending in July and the same length period ending in October, HTC's piece of the top U.S. OEMs pie dropped from 6.4 to 6.0 percent.
Market share only tells part of the story, however. Since the very first quarter results, HTC has reported plummeting revenues and profits. Year-over-year, profits were down 70 percent in Q1, 57.8 in Q2 and 79 percent in Q3.
And the most of the firm's latest devices, particularly its Windows Phone devices, aren't performing as well as expected either. Unwired View notes that HTC saw a 23 percent month-over-month jump in sales for November. A study performed by Conaccord reveals that HTC's Windows Phone 8X may be outselling Nokia on T-Mobile and Verizon, but the Nokia Lumia 920 is performing much better than the 8X despite the fact that the 8X was chosen as Microsoft's signature Windows Phone 8 phone.
Considering the HTC DROID DNA (or J Butterfly) didn't launch until November 21, it isn't likely we will see the effects of its launch until 2013. No less, the effects of HTC's lackluster market performance are beginning to surface. Coming from DigiTimes yesterday was a report stating:
"HTC has suspended development of a number of new models for 2013, reducing the visibility of its orders for handset components, the sources revealed."
Allegedly, the firm has also adjusted its projections for Q1 smartphone shipment increases from 20 to 30 percent to 10 to 15 percent. In other words, this turbulence is only going to get worse, at least for the foreseeable future. HTC is in a tough spot and competition is picking up. The report also alleges that HTC has faced "cutthroat competition" in China and will have to side-step its focus on high-end devices to jump into a more affordable sector.
Despite all of this trouble, HTC is a highly popular Android brand, and demand for its superior quality handsets is still very high. But the firm has some major hurdles to overcome heading into the new year, particularly in America, where Samsung and Apple run the show.
Below are a few ways HTC can improve its tactics and open the U.S. market to more consumers in 2013.
Same device, multiple carriers
I can't begin to put a number on how many times I have said this. Aaron, in particular, is vehement about it.
Look at the top two manufacturers in the U.S. right now. Set aside all the copying, patent wars and OS differences. The two companies' marketing tactics are in a completely different league from their counterparts. Not only are there ads everywhere, the branding is recognizable and hard to forget.
Most importantly, few mobile customers are excluded. Right now, you can walk into any major wireless retailer in the States and pick either an Apple iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy Note II or Galaxy S III.
With HTC, you may be able to pick up a similar device on all carriers. But HTC is willing to jump at any opportunity thrown its way, even at the expense of its own branding, brand recognition and the company's bottom end. Clearly, catering to carriers' wants and needs doesn't work any more, which gets me to my next point.
Continue and expand branding, play hardball
That's not to say HTC's recent changes to its branding aren't great. One and 8X/8S are fantastic. It's simple, concise and makes sense. However, HTC needs to step up, muster some courage and instill its own branding over carrier muck.
DROID is effectively dead and EVO still carries (some) weight. But Samsung's Galaxy brand is a prime example of how a manufacturer should have final say over the end product's branding, how HTC should play hardball and how severely altering each and every device to individual carrier's specifications is an inferior way to do business, both in terms of brand image and recognition. Succumbing to carrier branding, with the exception of a tight-knit partnership such as Verizon and Motorola, shows weakness.
In 2013, HTC needs the same One phone on AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon. Not the DROID One, or EVO One. But One X2 or whatever the successor will be called.
Stop skimping on battery capacity, storage space
Matias Durate and Google may not like microSD cards and how confusing they may be for end consumers. (Sigh.) But consumers love options, especially the option to expand an otherwise constricting and limited space.
Fine. I get it. MicroSD cards aren't the most ideal solution to storage constraints. The cloud will suffice for many use cases (though data caps are a heavy burden, but that's an entirely different issue that's out of HTC's hands). So why limit such high-end devices to just 16GB? The One X, for example, was easily one of the best smartphones in the first half of 2012. But storage and battery were its biggest flaws. The HTC DROID DNA is also a fantastic specimen. Like the One X, though, it comes with a measly 16GB of storage, without the option to expand like its Japanese counterpart, the J Butterfly.
HTC hardware is fine. It always has been. And its choice in displays is superior to most. It was the first to bring a 1080p smartphone stateside, and the One X display was regarded as one of the best mobile displays prior to excessive 1080p S-LCD3. But nearly every HTC smartphone I have ever owned has suffered from the exact same problems: poor battery life and inadequate storage.
The HTC One X+ is a great start, with 64GB of built-in storage. And the 2,020mAh battery in the DROID DNA is cute. But there is definitely tons of room for improvement, especially in battery capacity. HTC may believe users want slimmer devices over extra large batteries, but the 3,100mAh battery in the Samsung Galaxy Note II and 3,300mAh battery in the DROID RAZR MAXX HD prove that a relatively slim device can have the best of both worlds.
Optional: Make another Nexus
This one may be a stretch, I'm fully aware. But the Nexus One is still one of the most iconic Android phones to date. And I know plenty of people out there would love to see HTC have another crack at it. HTC has a more skillful hand at smartphone design and has a knack for picking the cream of the crop in terms of materials. Pair that with a revolutionary new Android update and HTC could find themselves back on the map.
It wouldn't likely bring them tons of profits as most recent Nexus phones and tablets have been sold just above cost. But with the recognition, die-hard Nexus fans just might find themselves falling back in love with HTC.
HTC, I want to love you and your phones. I really do. And I'm no business expert, and I don't try to be. But I am a former HTC fan who has watched the company take countless missteps and dwindle. And your tactics in 2011 and 2012 have reeked of fiscal turmoil – money first, consumers' wants and needs second. Cutting corners, skimping on battery and storage and letting carriers throw you around like a rag doll is unappealing and, ultimately, why I am no longer using an HTC device.
Make a phone with a 3,000mAh or larger battery, unibody polycarbonate, 64GB (or more) built-in storage, a mid-sized 720p or higher display. Put every great specification into a single device – what you've failed to do since … the beginning of time – and make it available on all carriers. I guarantee you will turn heads.