Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Where did HTC go wrong?

Image: Morton's Weblog
HTC has had some pretty historic moments. It had many firsts in the industry like the first Android device, the first Nexus device, and the first 1080p device from a major Android partner (second to the Find 5 by Oppo). Even my first Android is a HTC device, the HTC One X. Whenever I see people talking about their favourite smartphones of all time, HTC devices are usually mentioned. When it comes to phones with great build quality, again you will find that HTC phones are mentioned quite often, most recently thanks to the HTC One. With so many great moments in the industry and one of the best phones of 2013, why then is HTC in such deep financial trouble? Some people are even saying that HTC could possibly end up like Nokia, BlackBerry and Motorola, i.e., be acquired by a larger corporation, like Lenovo. Where did HTC go wrong? How did a company that was once the king of Android get dethroned so brutally? I have a few thoughts, which I think most of you will probably agree with.


Poor after-sales software support
We are often told that when we buy a device, we should buy it for what it is, not for what it can be. This may be true but that doesn't mean your device should be completely ignored once it's launched. I mean, we spend a lot of money on these pocket-sized computers. We are expected to use them everyday for two-years on average. Should we not expect some (prompt) software updates from time to time? HTC unfortunately has been poor when it comes to updating its previous devices. The HTC One S was dropped by the company a mere 15 months after release. My phone, the HTC One X just received the update to Sense 5 (with Android 4.2.2) last month, almost a whole year after Google launched 4.2 on the Nexus 4 and 10. I'm not completely sure about the status of other Android OEMs when it comes to updating their devices, but I know that HTC has received a lot of flak for its failures, and it seems that the reputations of other OEMs aren't hurt as badly as HTC's by this.

Lack of a strong "Galaxy" brand
Branding is important. That's probably the number one rule in business (I think). Building up a strong brand is what keeps a company on the road to success. It's how you develop trust among your customers. It converts new customers into returning customers who will buy more products from you in the future because they trust your brand. A strong brand is what leads to people queueing up for weeks to buy your products. A strong brand is something HTC unfortunately doesn't have. When you think Sony, you think Xperia. Samsung, Galaxy. Apple in itself is a strong brand. HTC? They had a chance last year with the One series, unfortunately they diluted the brand with so much crap that the brand just faded away. I know what you're going to say - Samsung do the exact same thing. Which is true, Samsung does have a lot of Galaxy devices as well. But unlike HTC, Samsung has managed to clearly define their flagship brand, the Galaxy S brand. Everyone knows the history of the Galaxy S brand - from the Galaxy S all the way to the Galaxy S4. What came before the HTC One? The One X, which doesn't make sense. What came before the One X? HTC failed to build a strong brand that everyone can recognise, and it has slowly been eating away at the company for the past few years.
A great opportunity for HTC to have their own
"Galaxy" brand goes begging. Image: Carphone Warehouse

Quietly brilliant wasn't a smart move
Lacking a strong brand was one problem, which was further aggravated by the fact that HTC had barely any marketing muscle compared to the likes of Samsung. HTC admitted that they weren't aggressive enough in promoting their products and vowed to change. But nothing really came of that promise. Sure they got Robert Downey Jr. on board with their "Here's To Change" campaign, but that didn't seem to help much did it? Similar to how Alicia Keys' appointment as Creative Director of BlackBerry was a flop. If building a strong brand is important in business, marketing that brand is just as - if not more - important. HTC failed to do this, and they are paying the price. What good is having a great product, if people don't know about it? Most people in the tech community including reviewers and enthusiasts pretty much agree that the HTC One is a great phone. But this group of people only make up a small minority of the market. The millions of Android users around the world are more important, and if they don't know about your product, they won't buy it.

I personally don't have a soft spot for HTC. I've only been part of the Android community for about 15 months, so what they did in the past doesn't really affect me. But I do appreciate how they pushed Android forward in the early years. It will be a shame if they do end up being acquired by someone, but anything that can help improve their situation should be welcomed. As long as they can still produce great Android phones - or even better - I'm sure many Android users will be happy. Who knows, they may end up getting a second chance like Motorola did after being taken under Google's wing.