Does HTC's sales shortfall spell trouble for customers?

In this edition of Ask Maggie CNET's Marguerite Reardon explains why HTC's sales trouble shouldn't scare off potential customers, and why Apple's customer service is still tops.

Apple and Samsung are running away with the smartphone market, but does that mean that consumers should steer clear of all the other handset makers?

In this edition of Ask Maggie, I help one reader decide if he should take a gamble and ditch Apple for an HTC One X. Will he still get the same level of service he has had with Apple?

I also explain to another reader that the Wi-Fi hotspot feature is included in the price of the new family share plans.

Steer Clear of HTC because of its sales troubles?

Dear Maggie,
I've been using an iPhone on AT&T since the iPhone 3G, but I am seriously contemplating a switch to Android after reading such positive reviews for the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S III. After seeing the price drop of the HTC One X to $100, the choice seems obvious. But then again, HTC's recent financial issues worry me that support for the One X will not be as robust as I am used to with the iPhone. So if I were to leave Apple, strictly based on the current state of HTC as a company, would the One X be a good choice or should buyers steer clear?

Thanks,
Peter

Dear Peter,
I wouldn't avoid the HTC One X because you're worried about the health of HTC's business. While it's true that HTC saw a nearly 60 percent decline in profits in the second quarter compared to last year's second quarter, HTC it still has a decent business that is still profitable and generating cash.

The HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S III Brian Bennett/CNET

Of course, HTC is no Apple or Samsung, which are dominating the market at the moment. But its NT$91.04 billion, or US$3.04 billion in revenue for the second quarter is nothing to sneeze at. I don't see the company going out of business anytime soon, and it's highly unlikely it would disappear within the next two years, which is likely how long you'll own your HTC One X. So as a potential customer, I wouldn't worry too much about this.

In fact, I'd argue that even consumers thinking of buying devices from Research In Motion or Nokia, which you could argue are in worse positions competitively to HTC in the U.S. smartphone market shouldn't avoid products from these companies either.

That said, there is a huge difference in terms of the customer service you are used to getting with Apple and the service you should expect from HTC or any maker of Google Android devices. The problem with Google Android products is that it's difficult to figure out who should support you when you have an issue with the phone. Sometimes the problem is with the software. Other times it's a hardware issue.

The trouble is that the OS comes from Google, but because it's open source it can be modified by device makers, which make several different models. Or carriers often add their own special sauce. There are also thousands of app developers, and because there is no one to make sure the apps actually work, sometimes clunky apps or apps that cause problems exist in Google's app store, Google Play.

In general, most customers turn to their wireless carriers when there is a problem with their device. But this doesn't always end in a satisfactory resolution to the issue. Sometimes phone makers lend a hand. But in general the overall support for Google Android devices is pretty poor. Most people have to rely on user forums to get a problem resolved or they beg and plead with their carriers to swap out an old phone for one that will hopefully work.

By contrast, Apple offers a much different customer support experience. Because Apple fully controls the hardware and the software, it's also able to control customer support. Plus Apple just has a different strategy than HTC or even Samsung. It has hundreds of retail locations all over the country dedicated to selling and servicing customers. And the company encourages customers to come into its stores to browse or even just to hang out.

This means that if you're having trouble with a software update or your phone starts acting funny, you can make an appointment at the local Apple store to see an expert at the Genius Bar. Depending whether you're device is still under warranty or if you've paid extra for Apple Care, often they will replace the phone or they'll help you fix whatever software issue you're having. All the accessories that come with your iPhone are also included in the warranty, and I've had several iPhone headsets replaced on the spot.

Apple also offers free workshops and classes in its stores for customers who want to learn more about their Apple products. The Genius Bar service is also free. But Apple Care, which extends the warranty a year on the iPhone, is an additional $100.

So what's my advice? If customer support is a big priority for you, and you expect to take advantage of the Genius Bar and the workshops at the Apple store, then stay with the iPhone. The iPhone 5 is expected to come out in the next couple of months. And it's likely to offer many of the same features and functionality that you find appealing on the HTC One X.

But if you are looking for a good smartphone at a bargain price, then I'd agree that the HTC One X is hard to pass up. I don't know what your financial situation is right now. For some people an extra $100 in their pockets is a big deal, while for others it's chump change. So you need to decide which one you value more -- good customer support and service or a cheaper device. If you were planning to get Apple Care with your new iPhone, then you'd be paying $200 more than you would for the HTC One X without an extended warranty.

If you're really torn, I'd recommend waiting just a little longer. That way you can see what Apple announces next month. And there are also rumors that HTC may be readying another new Google Android smartphone.

Good luck with your decision!

Is the Wi-Fi hotspot feature included in share plans?

Dear Maggie,
I have been an AT&T customer for 10 years. We have three iPhones and one regular phone on a plan with two unlimited data plans and another iPhone on a 200MB data plan. I have 1400 minutes, still on the A-list feature, and we have an unlimited texting plan with free mobile-to-mobile. With this plan, minutes and texting are currently not an issue.

I have been looking at the new AT&T share plans. I might consider a change but would like to know if enabling the hotspot feature on each (or all) the iPhones is an additional connection fee on these plans ($20 each.) If it is included in the smartphone connection, I think I might be able to save some money with this plan. But if the hotspot connection is additional, I might be better to stay with my current plan.

The AT&T staff I have talked to offer conflicting information from store to store. So any information you can offer would be great.

Thank you for your help,
Bob

Dear Bob,
If you have an unlimited data plan from AT&T, you cannot enable the hotspot feature on the iPhone 4S. AT&T will force you to choose a tiered plan. It considers this a change to your data plan, which means you have to give up the old plan. AT&T offers individual tiered plans, which will require you to pay an additional $20 to turn your iPhone into a hotspot. But along with that $20, you get an additional 2GB of data per month.

The new share plans from both AT&T and Verizon allow you to use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot at no additional cost. So if you sign up for a share data plan, the cost of the Wi-Fi hotspot feature on iPhones running iOS 4.3 will be included in the price of your monthly data plan. Of course, all that data in your plan will be shared across other people on that plan as well as the multiple devices connected to that hotspot. So you will need to make sure that you have enough data to keep up with the usage.

In general, the shared plan might be better for people who will only occasionally use the Wi-Fi functionality of the iPhone. But if you plan on using this feature a lot to connect your laptop or iPad, then might be better to keep your existing plan and subscribe to the $20 Wi-Fi hotspot fee, which will give you a total of 5GB of data to use.

Anyway, you need to price out what you are currently paying for your service. And then you can compare that with what you'd pay for the amount of data you'll need for your three iPhones, plus the devices you plan to tether to your data account.

Good luck!

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Show Comments Hide Comments
Latest Galleries from CNET
Best mobile games of 2014
Nissan gives new Murano bold style (pictures)
Top great space moments in 2014 (pictures)
This is it: The Audiophiliac's top in-ear headphones of 2014 (pictures)
ZTE's wallet-friendly Grand X (pictures)
Lenovo reprises clever design for the Yoga Tablet 2 (Pictures)