HTC has had a rough few years.
Back in the days of the HTC One, the company’s hardware was class-leading. No other manufacturer had made a phone quite like the HTC One, with a unibody aluminum design that looked just as great as it felt. The new Boomsound speakers blew away every hint of competition on the market, as no one had really seen dual speakers quite like this before. Though the company opted to iterate on this design for another three generations, other manufacturers began to catch up. Samsung moved from a plastic-y, cheap-feeling set of flagships to the all-glass unibody designs we see today. Even smaller brands like ZTE and Huawei started producing high-quality options at extremely competitive prices.
It’s no secret that HTC still produces incredibly interesting hardware. The Edge Sense feature present on the new HTC U11 may seem strange to some, but it is absolutely different than any hardware manufacturers have put out in quite a long time. The company is working to step away from their all-metal unibody designs in order to differentiate themselves from the pack, but is interesting hardware enough to get customers to buy devices again?
While the industry was evolving to compete with HTC’s hardware, quite frankly, HTC hasn’t done much to improve its software. Many manufacturers have chosen to lean down their software offerings but still contribute great additions to Android, and HTC has joined them to cut down Android to a pretty extreme extent. In fact, HTC’s version of Android is pretty much as barebones as you can get on a non-Pixel or Nexus device. You may be fine with that, as quite a few of us have been asking manufacturers to slim down their customizations for a long time. But at a certain point, you need to ask – what makes these phones so exciting? HTC’s software trim happened almost four generations ago, and yet the UI has barely evolved ever since.
The gallery above shows screenshots from the HTC One M9, HTC 10, and HTC U11. Do you see what I’m getting at? Sure, there are a few differences here, but overall we’re getting an extremely similar look and feel here. Quoting our HTC U11 review:
Sense is still one of the cleanest takes on Android, but it is starting to feel a little dated and in need of a refresh. The U11 was a perfect opportunity for HTC to do that, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.
So what exactly does HTC need to do to make a comeback? The company’s hardware is definitely innovative, but it doesn’t excite people like it used to during the metal unibody days. Edge Sense is pretty innovative, but is is enough to attract customers that have moved on to adopt offerings from Samsung and others? There is so much amazing competition on the market these days, it’s becoming quite difficult for HTC to climb their way back to the top.
Price is a huge factor that HTC is going to need to consider moving forward. The company wants to be seen as a premium brand and prices their devices that way, but the public no longer considers them in that vein. Especially when you make anti-consumer moves such as getting rid of the headphone jack simply to follow the trend of the industry, your customers are not going to want to purchase your devices. When phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 are cheaper than HTC’s flagship, that is going to be a strong point for customers to consider. Why would you buy a phone with less features when your largest competitor comes in cheaper?
And the competition isn’t only coming from Samsung. Companies like OnePlus are hitting the industry hard with more value-oriented options that continue to impress us. Heck, even HTC is competing with HTC. Now priced at $499 and even cheaper on sale, the HTC 10 continues to be a solid option which could be seen as higher quality and a better option than the U11 on many fronts.
HTC may need to take the value-oriented approach to move their way back to the top. Some might argue that it shouldn’t do that as it might tarnish its reputation, but offering a competitively-priced device with top-of-the-line specs could vastly improve sales. Sure, this would reduce revenue, but at least it would move more phones. Have you seen anyone out in the wild with an HTC 10, U Ultra, or U11? Probably not. Customers need a better reason to purchase these phones over offerings from Samsung and others, and pricing could be a great way to do that.
Last but not least, the company needs to make sure it can keep these things in carrier stores. The HTC 10 was and still is a fantastic device, but whatever spat they had with AT&T absolutely destroyed the sales of the device. Reviews were very solid on release, and the body was very reminiscent of original HTC One M7. Heck, the thing even had a DAC that many audiophiles acclaimed as one of the best ever included in a smartphone. I’m not sure what happened between AT&T and HTC that caused this thing to be unavailable from the carrier, but not offering a device on the 2nd largest carrier in the world is not good for sales.
The company hasn’t offered a flagship directly from AT&T since then, so it’s going to be more difficult for customers to actually purchase these devices. As much as the industry is starting to move towards buying devices outright, carrier subsidization is still alive and well. Most customers still buy their phones from physical stores, and HTC is going to have a hard time making their way back to the top if they can’t get these devices into consumer’s hands.
What do you think HTC needs to do to make a comeback? Would better pricing be enough? Does it need to rethink its software? Let us know your thoughts. We’d love to see the company come back into the limelight.