HTC plans to eschew the "quiet" part of its well-worn tagline, "Quietly Brilliant," as it looks to mount a comeback in the smartphone business.
"I think it will be really hard for HTC to get back to where it was before in terms of shipments and profits," said Jan Dawson, an analyst at research firm Ovum.The key dilemma for HTC: it isn't the only company facing this kind of situation. From Nokia to Research In Motion, the smartphone field is filled with players looking to recapture past glory. And it's easy for HTC to get lost in the shuffle with so many companies scrambling for attention in the mobile world. Take this week, when Nokia, Motorola Mobility, and Amazon all announced new products. Apple is expected to unveil a new iPhone next week. HTC has its own event on Sept. 19. HTC's comeback attempt began with the One series of phones, which debuted in February at Mobile World Congress. While the phones were critically praised, they only enjoyed a brief moment in the sun before the hype cycle moved on to the Galaxy S III. MacKenzie, however, argued that they performed better than people expected, with the flagship One X selling twice as many units as any other HTC product in the first four months in the market.
Samsung Galaxy S3 vs. HTC One X
It's easy to forget, but HTC is a fairly young company that got its start building phones for other companies and carriers, a practice known as white-labeling. It's an even younger one when factoring its more recent decision to go public with its brand; it launched an advertisement promoting its own brand for the first time in November 2009. HTC's rapid rise came as a result of calculated bets on the right technology and platforms. The company was the first to partner with Google to build an Android smartphone, the G1. It also built the Nexus One, the first Google-approved device in the Nexus lineup. When Sprint Nextel needed to build a phone for its 4G WiMax network, HTC came up with the Evo 4G. The company later built the first 4G LTE smartphone for Verizon Wireless, the Thunderbolt.
Its relentless adoption of the latest trends, paired with its Sense user interface, made HTC phones a desirable product. The Evo remains Sprint's best franchise, only surpassed by the iPhone, while the original Droid Incredible for Verizon Wireless was a hot item. In a little more than a year, HTC went from an anonymous manufacturer of other people's phone to a well-known brand.Since then, the company experimented with too many different products, expanded too fast, and became bogged down by too much bureaucracy and bloat, leaving HTC where it is today: still a significant player, but more a challenger than a leader in smartphones trying to find its way again. So how does HTC get some of that buzz back? MacKenzie said the company needs to improve how it communicates some of the features and advantages of its phones. The goal is to get more consumers walking into the store with their mind made up on buying an HTC device, which means a higher focus on social engagement and doing a better job of driving product awareness. "We've got a great product. When I demo the camera, I always get a 'wow' reaction," MacKenzie said. "We need to deliver that 'wow' in our communication." HTC is also on the look out for "superfans" or celebrities who naturally use the company's products with the hopes of building a list of influencers. It hopes to lean on these influences and find ways to "amplify their message" to build some excitement around products. Still, MacKenzie said he doesn't want to pay celebrities just to use its products, noting that consumers see through that kind of marketing ploy. As a much smaller company, HTC lacks the resources of Apple or Samsung when it comes to marketing, and needs to be selective in where it can invest in. "We can't market like Apple or Samsung," he said. "There's no brute-force marketing here." Still, the company will attempt more solo campaigns, allowing for a "pure HTC" message to come through, rather than one that's shared with a carrier partner. Betting on the One
HTC put all of its horse behind the One brand, and the company continues to support it. One was the company's attempt to simplify its brand and focus on a few quality phones, instead of the scattershot approach it previously took.
The powerful HTC One X on AT&T
While HTC hasn't shown off any of its Windows Phone 8 devices, MacKenzie said the company plans to go strong with the Microsoft platform. "I feel very good about the partnership with Microsoft," he said. "We're expecting big things." Could HTC introduce a singular One-like brand for its Windows Phone lineup? MacKenzie would only say "stay tuned." Aside from Nokia, HTC has arguably been the most consistent partner to Microsoft for Windows Phone. The company had more Windows Phones during the 2010 launch than any other vendor. It has also consistently worked to bring out high-profile new products, with CEO Peter Chou sharing a stage with AT&T's mobile CEO, Ralph de la Vega, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at AT&T's Consumer Electronics Show event.
HTC's smartphones have always stood out for their innovative design. Unfortunately, hardware alone isn't going to cut it. The company needs to work on improving the suite of software and services around its phones. HTC's experiment with Dr. Dre's Beats headphones was a flop, and with the rapid advancement of hardware, touting features such as a superior camera will only buy the company a momentary edge.
A streamlined Sense is a good start, but HTC needs to build on that with more of a focus on services such as music and video, or unique apps that help it stand out from the pack.A smart move for HTC has been to target several growing markets. Despite the ultra-competitive nature of the Chinese market, where homegrown players such as Huawei and ZTE have a dominant position, HTC has been making some strong inroads. "We've seen tremendous success," he said. The company has only recently made an effort to enter China in the last two years, and over the first six months of the year, HTC has seen its market share double to 6 percent, MacKenzie said, adding the company has grown by following its strategy of working closely with the carriers and building its own app store with Google Play banned in the country.
Up next: the HTC One SC for China, which features a unique back with a large logo. The company announced the phone today.With the smartphone business still emerging in India, HTC has moved to build an early position in that market as well. That doesn't mean HTC is taking its eye off the U.S. market, and doesn't believe the HTC story is ending there any time soon. "We still see the U.S. as an opportunity for growth," he said.