But that hasn’t stopped former smartphone heavyweight turned virtual reality virtuoso HTC dropping a bombshell announcement: it may not be done with flagship smartphones after all.
The news broke over the weekend when HTC CEO Yves Maitre told an audience at TechCrunch Disrupt the company would “look” at making premium handsets with “best-in-class hardware and photography” for “countries with higher GDP” in the future.
To be clear, he said “may” not will. So don’t expect an HTC U13 to be hitting the shelves anytime soon. But the very hint has been enough to get tongues wagging – to the point someone even made a render of what a refreshed HTC One M7 would look like.
I’m also not convinced the company will ever be able to fully bounce back with Apple and Samsung having such a stranglehold over the mobile market, and huge players including BlackBerry, Motorola and Sony all struggling to regain their former glory in the west.
But if it’s to have even a smidgeon of a chance, for me, there are three clear things it has to do.
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1. Don’t make an £1000 phone
A few years ago this would have been common sense. But since Apple made £1000 the standard rate for a flagship phone with the iPhone X, every tech company under the sun has gradually ramped up their top blower’s RRP.
HTC could decide to do the same but, for me, that would be a big mistake. I’m not saying HTC should stick to making Moto G rivals, like the Asia-only Wildfire re-release, but all sales data suggests £1000 phones aren’t exactly flying off the shelves. Every analyst house has been warning phone companies smartphone sales, particularly in the top-end of the market, are rapidly slowing down.
This is partly due to people waiting longer to upgrade and the fact the hardware returns are getting smaller year-on-year as company’s struggle to innovate, but new flagships steep upfront cost is a definite contributing factor.
Even Apple partially admitted this in its last quarterly financial statement, where it revealed it had seen a modest 1% year-on-year increase in iPhone revenue. This sounds good, but it meant the iPhone spoke for its smallest share of Apple’s overall revenue for the first time since 2012.
Analysts from Kantar Worldpanel later highlighted the lack of a mid-range iPhone as a key reason Google’s Pixel 3a line, and mid-range £300-£600 Android phones in general, managed to grow their market share this year.
If HTC wants to succeed, it should learn from other companies mistakes and competitively price any phone it makes, even if it’s a flagship.
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2. Don’t rely on gimmicks, look at what users actually want
Given HTC’s track record with things like the first Facebook phone, this may feel a little counter-intuitive to its engineers, but our second point is pretty simple: just give people what they want. It’s always nice when a company makes a flagship product with a never-before-seen feature that’s sure to get headlines. But the fact is, in today’s market, phone buyers are fickle. Unless you absolutely nail it with new features, excitement can rapidly turn into ridicule.
The Samsung Galaxy Fold saga is a good example of this. When the Galaxy Fold launched alongside the Galaxy S10 family of phones, reader and critic reactions were excellent. Every publication and tech fan was clambering to get a chance to play with the world’s first folding phone. Then things rapidly took a turn for the worse when the device fell apart in reviewers hands the moment they took it out of the box. Since then the Galaxy Fold has become a warning to other firms – don’t rush to market with a half baked concept, wait and get it right.
HTC should take heed of this warning if it wants to succeed and focus on releasing a great phone that nails the features users care about – camera, battery life, screen quality, dark modes – rather than making a gimmick technical showcase.
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3. Tug buyers’ nostalgia strings
The final point is also pretty simple – cash in the oodles of good will it has from older buyers who still remember HTC in its glory days. If you’re over 30 and not an Apple-flunky, chances are you have owned or considered owning an HTC phone at some point.
The HTC Wildfire was my first Android smartphone and the Desire still holds a spot as one of the most fondly remembered Google-OS handsets ever made. The company’s first batch of One-brand smartphones are also still very fondly remembered. HTC should leverage this nostalgia if it wants to get people interested in its phones again.