How the internet of things could bring levity to HTC

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Unlike LG, Samsung or Motorola, HTC did not have much of a handset legacy before the smartphone. Indeed, some of the company’s notable early projects — including the Compaq iPaq PDA and T-Mobile G1 — set the stage for operating systems that would battle on the global smartphone stage. In turn, despite its proclivity to offer its own software spin on top of their user interfaces, HTC stood on the shoulders of billions of dollars of investment that Microsoft and Google poured into their ecosystems.

The tradeoff worked well for many years as HTC rode Android’s rising tide. But then the downsides surfaced.

On Android, Samsung in particular was able to far outspend it in terms of marketing and flood the market with smartphones at nearly every price point. On Windows, HTC had to deal with a new reality of little leeway in terms of user interface customization and market share struggles related to an immature app library. And of course, no matter which horse it rode, it was racing against Apple and unable to share in its success.

But last year’s release of the seemingly innocuous Re camera signaled a new direction for the company that evolved from a maker of smart mobile devices for others to the creator of flagship devices such as the HTC One. The product was, of course, not a phone, it did not run Android, and it was compatible with the iPhone. In the world of the internet of things, virtually anything that is not a connected control point such as a smartphone or tablet will be accessible via one; the Re was such a product.

htc-re-camera-02

Now there are reports that the company’s long-rumored entry into the smartwatch space will forego the only major licensable platform available– Android Wear — and that HTC will go its own way, again supporting the iPhone and following in the footsteps of Pebble and other free-thinkers. In some ways, a smartwatch plays better to HTC’s strengths in both hardware and software design without having to take on the developer support of a whole platform. It’s also not a surprising move given the failure of Android Wear to wow consumers last holiday season and Google’s decision to allow limited customization of the interface, an HTC specialty.

The move comes with greater risk, though. While virtually everyone is undercutting the Apple Watch in terms of price, it will be difficult to fight for mindshare against the wristwear from the platform incumbents or their sanctioned partner. Samsung, its dominant rival in the smartphone space, has made limited inroads with smartphones using its own platform.

Furthermore, another challenge that HTC will face as it diversifies from the smartphone market is distribution. This is particularly in the U.S. where carrier stores dominant smartphone distribution. The company will need to expand its brand in new categories in new channels. Still, casting its boat off into what could be a rising tide is a better alternative than trying to fight the wave of momentum that competitors have.

Even if HTC is successful, positioning at the forefront of an era of connected smart purpose-filled objects won’t necessarily free it from the binds of ecosystems. Both Apple and Google are eager to launch hubs that will allow consumers to control all of their associated devices from a single point that they control. However, unlike with smartphones, it can provide compatibility with both major operating systems and even hedge its bets on others. That’s a level of freedom that the company did not enjoy as just a smartphone maker.

3 Comments

ewalsh5

Unifying and being able to have your IoT option cross-platform for IoT wearable computing device, is as much a challenge for the development canvas and adoption as security is. Given that the ned of the year would see over 45m units shipped, (a figure that’s set to triple by 2019, per IDG forecasts – bit.ly/1G6i3cm) – there’s really no excuse for not refining your UX, and back-end integration.

jjj

This kind of thinking is exactly what screwed up HTC to begin with.
HTC’s custom UI that you claim is their strong point is was compromised their reputation, they were fine and then they managed to make a slow UI that drove people mad and that made the devices a lot less reliable. They also made stupid mistakes like getting rid of microSD slot a couple of years ago,then making bulky devices when screen sizes went up and everybody is looking for small bezels. More recently they fell behind on pricing, they are utterly uncompetitive just like pretty much all old smartphone makers. You talk about Samsung like they are doing well,when they’ve been losing massive share just on uncompetitive prices or about Apple like they are doing well, when they have 15% share and slowly bleeding share. What happens to the ecosystem outside the US when iOS has (far) bellow 10% share and device prices are 2-4 time higher than the competition? HTC focused on the wrong things ,on a custom UI just because that was the popular wisdom in some circles ,when in fact consumers just wanted clean and fast,

When it comes to watches nobody has the form factor right yet, nobody has the hardware right yet and nobody outside China has the prices right yet. All that is far more important that compatibility with the other 20% of devices out there.
And btw , you blame Google for the lack on compatibility with Apple devices but the problem is that Apple doesn’t allow sufficient access so one would have to cripple the functionality when linked to Apple devices. HTC will be limited to what Apple allows too.
HTC needs to gets the basics right first, without that they are not getting anywhere., if they are still standing by this time next year. They have tried a bit to be more competitive but they haven’t showed yet that they are capable of understanding the market and competing.

kc821guam

Really great points made, channels has always been a major problem with HTC, not only in the US, but all over the world. But when it comes to wearables, especially the rumored fitness tracker set to be unveiled on March 1st, there’s a little twist. HTC has announced a partnership with Under Armour back at the CES in January, and they said that the partnership has been going on for more than 6 months, so there is a big possibility that their first wearable, rumored to be a fitness tracker, would be a joint effort by HTC and Under Armour. The best scenario that comes out of this is that the device has both Under Armour and HTC branding, and available in both HTC and Under Armour’s stores. Also, Upleaks recently reported that the device (code-named PETRA) will also be available in AT&T and T-Mobile.

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