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HTC: Rhyme a better upgrade phone than iPhone

HTC executive Jason MacKenzie says for basic phone customers looking to move to a smartphone, the Rhyme is a better product than Apple's handset.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Roger Cheng
3 min read
The HTC Rhyme. Bonnie Cha/CNET

If you're looking to upgrade to a smartphone from a basic handset, HTC executive Jason Mackenzie says he believes the Rhyme offers a better option than Apple's iPhone.

HTC's global marketing chief, Jason Mackenzie. HTC

"For a feature phone customer, we think this is a better product than the iPhone," Mackenzie said in an interview with CNET. HTC's global marketing chief was in New York on Tuesday for the unveiling of the Rhyme for Verizon Wireless, a "plum" smartphone with feminine sensibilities--not that HTC or Verizon would easily cop to that fact.

Mackenzie's claim is a bold one, but one in line with a company that itself has gotten bolder in the smartphone arena. Over the past few years, HTC has made a name for itself with its unique take on the Android smartphone and a concerted effort to get its own name out in the market, rather than relying on carrier partners for marketing support.

That higher profile has come with bigger problems. HTC is embroiled in a massive legal battle with Apple over the alleged violation of patents on both sides, a conflict that has drawn in Google's direct support through the transfer of its own intellectual property. At the same time, HTC faces the prospect that one of its strongest partners, Google, will turn into a competitor, once it absorbs Motorola.

As the first Android vendor to be sued by Apple for patent infringement, HTC has grown weary of the litigation questions.

"It's the last thing we want to talk about," Mackenzie said.

Mackenzie declined to comment on where he thought the litigation would go, but he reiterated that he felt confident in the company's position.

"We're going to defend ourselves," he said, adding that the entire wireless industry is aligning itself to get past the recent phase of increased litigation.

The litigation took another turn recently, when HTC filed a new lawsuit using patents it acquired from Google, marking the first time Google has taken direct action to support a partner.

"We feel good about the support we're getting from Google," MacKenzie said, declining to comment on whether future patents would change hands.

Still, many in the industry wonder whether Google's takeover of Motorola would mean that the once strong partner would become a competitor, and that Motorola would get the first crack at the latest Android innovations. Mackenzie said he wasn't worried.

"We competed with Motorola yesterday, we compete with them today, and we'll continue to compete with them tomorrow," he said.

HTC has never been about relying on the latest software upgrades from Google. It's been more about using Sense, Mackenzie said. While HTC built the first phone using Google's specifications, the Nexus One, it hasn't participated in the Nexus program since then.

"We know how to be dynamic in a dynamic industry," he said.

HTC has been known as a company willing to go out on a limb with devices, building the first Android device, the G1 for T-Mobile, and the first 4G device in Sprint's Evo 4G. Earlier this year, it released a unique Facebook-centric phone, the Status, for AT&T.

The Rhyme definitely goes out on a limb. While Verizon Wireless insists that the phone will have wide appeal, Mackenzie conceded that the product skews female. He said that while HTC has traditionally been strong with tech enthusiasts, the Rhyme is a chance to widen the market to new customers.

With the purple shade, a "charm" accessory that acts as a visual notification of an incoming call or message, and a cleaner version of its Sense user interface, the phone is decidedly geared toward women. Mackenzie said he believes that some a broader group of consumers will appreciate the "thoughtful design" and the extra accessories, which include a bedside dock and a pair of tangle-free headphones.

"HTC went to Verizon about a vision to appeal to a group where there is no cut-and-dried winner," Mackenzie said.