@ MWC: HTC Shows Off Two ‘Facebook Phones’ And Its First Tablet


Credit: Photo Ingrid Lunden

HTC is now a close second behind Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) for being the most popular device maker, according to figures released today from the Millennial Media advertising network. This morning in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress, HTC unveiled six new devices — including two new devices with Facebook buttons and a tablet — that it hopes will help it close that gap. All are Android based, with no mention of Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) Windows at all during the press event.

This year while HTC ships one of the first 4G devices, the HTC Thunderbolt, on Verizon, it is also looking to extend its products by enhancing the kinds of services that are available on its newest 3G models.

Today HTC launched its first tablet, the Flyer; new versions of three existing models, Incredible S, Desire S and Wildfire S; and two new handsets, the Salsa and the ChaCha, which feature physical Facebook buttons. All devices will ship by the second quarter of 2011.

These last two devices underscore the ambitions of two major companies. They show what HTC is trying to do to differentiate itself among the sea of Android makers, but they also point to just how far Facebook has come in mobile.

Together, the six devices are the most the device maker has ever launched at one time. None of them featured Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS, and in fact neither Android or Microsoft’s OS were not even mentioned once during the day — a sign of how HTC is trying to distance itself from being just another Android device maker.

The Flyer has a few features that really do differentiate what we’ve seen so far in the tablet market: they include a superfast video store from new acquisition Saffron Digital “that makes you feel like you have a whole video library at your fingertips” (it’s cloud-based); a new kind of 3D gaming experience that links up the tablet’s gaming system with a cloud-gaming service OnLine (a strategic investment also made the other week); and a stylus that lets you notate your text — although the last of these is in fact throwbacks to some of the first tablet models put out by the likes of HP (NYSE: HPQ).

In the sea of Android me-toos the HTC Flyer looks like it is directly attacking Samsung’s market first: “We didn’t want to rush a product to market…this is not a gadget but something that changes people’s lives,” said the developers in the video presented by HTC.

Meanwhile, the ChaCha and Salsa Facebook phones could potentially extend HTCs reach into the crucial youth segment of the market, many of which have yet to upgrade to smartphones from featurephones. Half of the people 18-24 check facebook as soon as they wake up and a quarter do it on their phones before they get out of bed. “They grab their smartphones almost before they’ve even opened their eyes,” said John Wang, CMO for HTC.

HTC has made a pretty nifty innovation with its Facebook phone: it’s not just a key that takes the user to Facebook but it blinks and then lets a user share whatever content is being consumed on the device, directly with their Facebook friends.

Chamath Palihapitiya, VP for growth at Facebook, made an appearance to say: “We’re very proud of these devices…They are one of many important steps we are taking” in mobile.

In the fourth quarter of 2010 smartphone sales hit 100 million units for the first time, and some think that smartphones will outsell feature phones by the end of this year. “Nice to have is turning into must have…in this environment cutting edge features are crucial,” said Peter Chou, CEO of HTC.

Chou said that in 2010 htc sold 25 million handsets, more than double what it did the year before. Last year global brand awareness was 50 percent, it was below 30 percent 18 months before.

— Millennial Media’s numbers, released today, noted that HTC’s share on its network grew by 36 percent based largely because of how many HTC devices rank in the Millennial top 30. Apple’s share grew by 24 percent and represents 26 percent of the market to HTC’s 21 percent. Overall Android had a 54 percent impression share in January. And surprisingly given all the negative news on Symbian, impressions from that OS grew “significantly” increasing just as much as Apple’s share, at 24 percent. But Nokia (NYSE: NOK) only has a 1.43 percent share of the market — ranking number seven but so far behind in actual share.

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