October 14 will be marked as the day when HTC lost its soul – the day when the One max was announced. The One max is the anti-thesis of everything that HTC stood for. Every smartphone that HTC ever launched had a reason to exist. It had a purpose and a lot of thought went into executing the design of every single product. I vividly remember Peter Chou showing off the Touch Diamond in 2008 and how easy it was to use it with a single hand. More recently, the One with its BoomSound speakers on the front and a 4.7-inch display that was just about big enough to compete with rival flagship phones without having to stretch your hand to hold it. The company took care to think of minute user experiences and unlike some other brands, it appeared that they indeed used their own product before launching it to people who’d be paying a premium to buy them.
HTC has had a string of bad quarters culminating in its first-ever loss in the last quarter. The Taiwanese ODM-turned-smartphone brand’s recent misery has been pinpointed to a few reasons – poor marketing, poor pricing and poor timing of product launches. While HTC hopes that its $1 billion marketing campaign with Robert Downey Jr would help revive its fortunes, the stark reality is that nothing will change for the better unless HTC gets its product right in terms of execution, pricing and timing. Unfortunately, recent launches have proved that HTC is still struggling to get it right.
The One series is reportedly CEO Peter Chou’s project aimed at reviving the company. However, it started on the worst note possible. The flagship One smartphone was supposed to be launched before Samsung announced the Galaxy S4. HTC unveiled the product well in advance but could not roll it out before Samsung’s unveiling thanks to shortage of its headlining ‘UltraPixel’ camera. There was no way HTC could compete with Samsung’s marketing muscle and that’s exactly what happened. Despite being a better product in many respects, Samsung bulldozed HTC.
The One mini was supposed to be the smaller, budget variant of the One without coming across as a cheap phone. This product too faced delays thanks to, believe it or not, shortage of its plastic casing! When the One mini was eventually launched in India last week, buyers could buy the Galaxy S4 for the same price!
The One max has left me speechless for all the wrong reasons. The headlining feature, the fingerprint sensor, is not ergonomically placed and even if you do somehow manage to reach it in an intuitive way, chances are it won’t recognize your fingerprint as it requires the finger to be placed a specific angle and then swipe up. Only a simian who has just found out about his dexterity, wanting to show it off to other mammals could have come up with something that convoluted. It sports a massive 5.9-inch display that offers nothing but the sheer humongous size, leaving it up to the user to find innovative ways to use it, unlike the Galaxy Note 3 that justifies the bigger display. And given HTC’s past record of pricing its products, I won’t be surprised if it is priced considerably higher than the Galaxy Note 3.
Another thing that caught my attention was the use of older generation Snapdragon 600 chipset in the One max while the rest of the competition has moved on to the better Snapdragon 800 chipset for the flagship products. While it could have been always HTC’s plan to use the older generation chipset to offset costs but I won’t be surprised if it wasn’t able to secure supplies from Qualcomm, which is supplying it to Samsung (Galaxy Note 3), Sony (Xperia Z1 and Xperia Z Ultra), LG (G2 and Nexus 5), Nokia (Lumia 1520 and Lumia 2520) and even Xiaomi (Mi3).
It is no secret that HTC no longer counts among the tier one brands in the smartphone component space and it has to make that extra effort to secure supplies, which are often bought at higher rates than what an Apple or Samsung would have to pay purely on the scale at which they buy components. This has a direct impact on the final cost of producing the product and eventually gets passed down to consumers.
I am told that HTC has a much robust product portfolio in place for 2014 but I’m afraid the damage has already been done. The knives are already out for Chou within the company and high profile defections are happening, some in the most embarrassing way possible. There is no easy way out for HTC to rescue itself from the vicious circle it find itself in at the moment. The question really is when it wakes up and starts taking some difficult decisions. Time is running out.