HTC: You'll find our next phone camera 'very, very compelling'
Top execs talk with CNET about phones, virtual reality and whether the company will ever make a true smartwatch.
Roger ChengFormer 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.
Samsung and LG just had their moment in the spotlight with their premium phones. It will be HTC's turn any day now.
The company, which will show off its next flagship phone "very soon," hints at one key feature to expect: a much improved camera.
"We can confidently say that HTC will have a very, very compelling camera experience," Chief Financial Officer Chialin Chang said Thursday in an interview at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona. "We're making this comment after we've seen what's going on in the market."
Neither Chang nor CEO Cher Wang, who also sat down for the interview with CNET, would divulge any other details on the next phone, which is expected to be called the One M10 following the naming scheme of the company's past devices. Neither executive mentioned the device by name.
A better camera would counter the biggest criticism the One M9 faced when it launched a year ago at MWC. Given our growing dependence on phones to capture our daily lives through photos and videos, the disappointing camera of the One M9 proved to be a critical misstep. HTC, which boasts a legacy of strong design, hopes its next phone can legitimately stand next to the Samsung Galaxy S7 and the LG G5, both of which debuted Sunday at the show.
"Hopefully, this year will be different," Chang said.
The upcoming phone and the Vive virtual reality system are part of HTC's quest to get back in your good graces with products that create a lot of buzz. This hasn't been easy, with the Taiwanese company posting three straight quarters of losses as once-loyal users gravitated to competing products. Early efforts to expand beyond the phone business, such as with its Re personal camera, also flopped.
All about Vive
HTC has a large presence at MWC not for its phones, but because of Vive, which it co-developed with game developer Valve. Virtual reality has been hot at this year's Mobile World Congress, with many booths demonstrating some version of the technology.
On Sunday, HTC revealed the price of its system -- $799 -- and said it will begin taking advance orders on February 29.
When rival Oculus earlier divulged the $599 price tag of its Rift system, it faced backlash from supporters who thought that was too high. But early feedback from HTC's fans has been positive, Wang said. She argues that the bundling of the two wireless controllers with the Vive makes her system a better deal. The Oculus Rift, set for release on March 28, will come with an Xbox One controller. Wireless controllers will go on sale in the second half of the year.
Watch this: HTC Vive: Meet the final consumer version
The Vive allows you to get up and move around in a limited space, where the Oculus requires users to be more stationary. Consumers are savvy enough to understand the additional benefits, Wang said.
"Why compromise?" she asked.
When looking at the total addressable market and who would likely buy the system, HTC could sell a couple of million units, Chang said, although he cautioned that number didn't represent a target for the company.
Vive: What your $799 ticket to VR includes (photos)
One of the challenges for virtual reality will be getting people to experience the system. Chang said the company was talking with major retailers to get the Vive set up in their stores. He added that the retailers were willing to donate retail space to HTC -- a rarity in the industry -- because they believe the excitement factor will drive foot traffic and potentially convince consumers to buy the powerful computers needed to drive the system.
The adoption of virtual reality will be quick, predicted Wang, who touted the Vive as a superior experience to something like the Samsung Gear VR headset.
"Once you can leapfrog everybody," Wang said, "you'll see things grow."
Spokesman for Oculus and Samsung weren't immediately available for comment.
About that smartwatch
Sales of HTC's fitness tracker, the UA Band, have been surprisingly strong, Wang said. The company is working to ramp up production to meet demand.
But what of the smartwatch that HTC had teased on and off over the past two years? Neither executive would speak specifically about any upcoming products, but Chang said he would need to figure out how it would fit with other products before launching one.
He pointed to the UA Healthbox, a bundle that includes the UA Band, a smart scale and a heart rate monitor, as an example of a more complete system.
"When HTC comes out with a smartwatch," Wang said, "we will turn the industry on its head."