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Phones

HTC First: what is HTC thinking?

HTC's "Facebook phone" suggests that the company has learned nothing from its past mistakes.

opinion HTC's "Facebook phone" suggests that the company has learned nothing from its past mistakes.

Why? (Credit: James Martin/CNET)

Back in 2011, HTC was a company on the move. The year before, Fast Company had named it number 31 in its list of the world's most innovative companies, and the Taiwanese handset manufacturer formerly known as the High Tech Computer Corporation wasn't holding back.

In 2011, it was number five in worldwide smartphone sales, according to IDG, with a solid 8.9 per cent of the market. More impressively, it was the number one vendor in the United States, ahead of Samsung and Apple.

Then 2012 happened, and by the third quarter of that year, it had dropped to just 4 per cent of the global market.

So what put the pin in HTC's rising balloon? Well, opinions differ. If you ask HTC's CEO Peter Chou, it was all about the marketing.

"Our competitors were too strong and very resourceful, pouring in lots of money into marketing," Chou said of HTC's struggles last year. "We haven't done enough on the marketing front."

Of course, other people might suggest that releasing well over 20 Android phones in a single year (2011), many of which were almost indistinguishable from each other — sometimes even just a different name for a different carrier — might have caused some consumer fatigue.

Even in 2012, we had five different types of HTC One and three different HTC Desires.

HTC promised that things would change. It would concentrate on marketing. There would be less joint marketing with carriers for phone exclusives, and it would work on "unique products that appeal to consumers".

So, we must ask, when the world has been waiting for the new-look HTC One to overcome its delays and finally arrive on sale, why would it pump out a remarkably average phone like the HTC First?

Facebook Home is a suite of apps that basically works like an Android skin, making your phone Facebook centric all the time. It already works on a variety of Android phones, any one of which is infinitely more desirable, spec wise, than the under-powered HTC First. And the carrier partnership makes it exclusive to AT&T in the US.

Let's not forget that HTC has tried the "Facebook phone" route before, with the HTC Chacha (the HTC Status in the US) and the HTC Salsa (HTC Icon). Both of these featured dedicated Facebook buttons, and neither exactly set the world on fire, sales wise.

HTC promised consumers a fresh start that would involve innovative products and a company that would be agile and "responsive to market changes".

The HTC First suggests that it might just be business as usual for HTC.