In a recent TechCunch interview HTC’s new CEO Yves Maitre made a critical admission:
“HTC has stopped innovating in the hardware of the smartphone, people like Apple, like Samsung and, most recently, Huawei, have done an incredible job investing in their hardware. We didn’t, because we have been investing in innovation on virtual reality.”
“When I was young, somebody told me, ‘to be be right at the wrong time is to be wrong and to be wrong at the right time is right.’ I think we’ve been right at the wrong time and now we have to catch up. We made a timing mistake. It is very difficult to anticipate the time. HTC made a mistake in terms of timing. It is a difficult mistake and we are paying for that, but we still have so many assets in terms of innovation, team and balance sheets that I feel we are recovering from the timing mistake.”
As a supporter of HTC for many years, I can agree with the lack of innovation. It could be argued that HTC’s decline and lack of innovation have been evident since the anti-climactic release of the HTC One M9 alongside the understated announcement of the HTC Vive.
I was in the front row at that MWC event. As we were listening to a disjointed and somewhat underwhelming presentation from Peter Chou, I noticed a flickering of a curtain just off stage left. It was Drew Bamford and team holding the “never seen before” HTC Vive prototype.
— Darren Millar (Tech, Android) (@dpmtech) October 11, 2018
There was a sense of excitement surrounding the Vive that was missing from the HTC One M9 announcement. The mobile device felt rushed, ill-conceived and that “we’re on a high, they’ll buy anything.” They were so wrong.
Since then HTC has been struggling. Last July, it laid off around a quarter of its staff and in Q2 of 2019, the Taiwanese hardware maker posted its fifth consecutive quarterly loss. It’s been a particularly disgraceful fall from the top. In 2011, the company comprised around 11% of global smartphone sales, while these days its figures are routinely classified among the “Others” in those reports.
But let’s focus for a second. HTC CEO Maitre sees 5G as the primary bottleneck to growth which I’d consider a reasonable assumption with 5G nowhere ready for widespread deployment. Contrary to previous suggestions that the company’s best play was in developing nations, he says HTC’s delivering more premium handsets, focused on “countries with higher GDP.”
How many times can you be “right at the wrong time” before you throw in the towel? Does HTC’s name hold any value at this point in the mobile space? While there are still quite a few loyal HTC fans out there, would they still put their trust in the brand after being left high and dry without support and updates for so long?
[HTC M7 Redux] 2019 specs, metal body, "borderless" OLED, dual speakers, under screen finger print, bigger battery, u12+ camera. Android One.
Silver, Matte Black, Android green
— Darren Millar (Tech, Android) (@dpmtech) February 27, 2019
.@htc M7 2019 Edition
— Darren Millar (Tech, Android) (@dpmtech) March 1, 2019
I have no doubt HTC could deliver another smash hit. As an HTC OG fan, I can never lose faith. But if HTC truly wants to compete, the devices they deliver need to come without compromises. The phones need to deliver premium materials, impeccable software experience and the highest spec available at launch with a marketing campaign that will turn heads.
At the very least it’s promising to hear this kind of positivity after so many years of radio silence from HTC. Would you be willing to give HTC another shot if they manage to give the world a truly compelling smartphone? The idea of a return to true premium devices from HTC excites me, but at this early stage, I’m not holding my breath.