HTC is not doing well. Their stock is trading badly right now, and their reputation as a top-tier smartphone company is under a great deal of pressure. The HTC One M9 landed with a whimper rather than a bang, and they had to delay their Grip fitness band. So does HTC have a future?
Personally, I think HTC made a number of missteps in the last few years. The One M series looks great, but it’s become increasingly about beauty over brains and brawn. They can’t seem to design a decent camera, and “shiny and metallic” isn’t exactly a major standout point any longer. I like my One M8, but I don’t see myself moving on to future iterations of the One series unless HTC made some serious changes. For one thing, the signal is significantly weaker than other phones. They can claim all they want that the antenna lines work great to make a metal phone better at signal, but the reality is that my iPad Mini and Sarah’s iPhone 5C both get better signal than my HTC One. I can hold both of our phones side by side, and in marginal areas Sarah will still have signal, or will have 4G, and I’ll have spotty 3G service. In good service areas it isn’t a big deal, but it’s very noticeable on long trips where we’re passing through multiple dead spots and areas that flip from 3G to 4G and back again. Not only that, but HTC hasn’t added anything that makes the phones appealing compared to the competition-they’re just as expensive as a Samsung or LG flagship, but the camera on an HTC isn’t as good and they lack fingerprint readers, wireless charging, and other “nice to have” features. On the flipside, a Moto X might also skimp on a few features, but it costs significantly less. So the case for buying an HTC, again, seems to come down to “Look, shiny”, and that’s just not enough these days.
We know Apple makes far more in profits on smartphones than Android manufacturers, and I think HTC is a victim of this trend (despite making money last quarter, there seems to be significant doubt that HTC can continue that momentum). HTC’s biggest issue right now is that they are essentially on their own as a mobile phone company, while their competition are just one division in giant companies. Samsung can afford to pump out Galaxy handsets even if they don’t make money on them, because if people know the Samsung name and like their Samsung devices, they’ll buy a Samsung computer, or a Samsung TV, or a Samsung dishwasher. Likewise, LG wins if someone sees an LG G4 in the store, even if they don’t make money on the phone, because it puts the LG name in front of consumers for everything from refrigerators to washing machines. On the low-end, Motorola, Huawei, One Plus and the others are all happily selling truckloads of cheap to produce phones. And with the exception of One Plus (who have corporate investors with deep pockets), most of those smartphone makers report to larger conglomerates as well. HTC lives and dies by how many phones they sell; Lenovo can afford a lot more volatility in Motorola sales.
HTC had a great design in the initial One M7, but it feels like they’re stagnating a bit, and they’re doing it at exactly the wrong time. They used to be the gold standard for interesting smartphone designs, especially when they were the designer for all those carrier-branded Windows Mobile phones, and if they can recapture that creativity I think there’s still a lot of goodwill in their brand name. But if they don’t, there’s no room anymore for being safe if they want to survive the current smartphone market.