News of HTC’s shares slump, following its revelation that it doesn’t expect to grow at all in the current quarter, has been met with a large amount of surprise in some quarters of the tech industry. But despite a series of record breaking quarters, it’s not exactly that shocking. The mobile maker has been outstripped by Samsung in the Android space, seen itself become second string to Nokia when it comes to Windows Phone, as well as suffering a series of PR gaffes in the last 12 months.
HTC’s Android phones might still look the part to tech fanatics, but there’s an overwhelming feeling that the devices don’t cut it compared to rival handsets. And then there’s the custom skin, HTC Sense, which although intuitive, is at the root of a series of update issues. So, what can be done? Here’s our plan to help HTC save itself.
You just have to look at HTC’s approach to releasing endless new smartphones to see how it’s got itself into its current mess. During 2010 and early 2011, it was as if a month wasn’t complete without the release of a new HTC Android phone. That helped it to become Android top dog, but has caused it untold problems now. Its devices always take ages to get the latest Android updates, with the original Desire being the centre of a particularly embarrassing gaffe, involving the company saying the phone couldn’t handle Android Gingerbread, before a huge Facebook-based backlash prompted a U-turn.
To that end, it needs to ensure it sticks rigidly to Google’s plan, revealed at its I/O conference back in May, to ensure all new Android phones are compatible with the latest software for 18 months after release. Once it does that, by ensuring it doesn’t cripple its handsets with paltry memory, it then needs to address the elephant in the room: HTC Sense.
When I first used HTC Sense, I was bowled over at its deep integration and aggregation abilities. But after a few months, it became abundantly clear that it was pretty, but rather unnecessary window dressing. And window dressing that was evidently causing updates to take forever to roll out. Sense was always blamed as HTC struggled to bring new software to older phones.
The solution, one which HTC perhaps won’t like, or implement, is simple. Ditch HTC Sense. It gets in the way, it causes untold issues and gets in the way of what is becoming an increasingly sharp and easy to use OS. Android Ice Cream Sandwich really doesn’t need it slathered on top in order to function properly. Those days are long gone and HTC needs to see that.
So then, what can help HTC differentiate itself if its software isn’t unique? Well, design. HTC has made some stunning phones in recent years, but is falling into the same cookie cutter approach that took Nokia to the brink of disaster. It needs to release fewer phones, with better design. It should take the gorgeous, aluminium HTC Legend as its cue. One of last year’s second tier Android devices, its arguably the closest any mobile design team has come to emulating Apple and should act as inspiration for future phones. The recent unibody HTC Radar Windows Phone is a good pointer as to where things could go. But any more phones that look a bit like the HTC Desire just won’t do the business.
HTC might say the issues it’s facing are not serious. But if it doesn’t face facts soon and learn from the failure if rival mobile makers, then it could be in for a very rough 2012. The time to change has come.