While Google, Apple and others are working furiously to build the future, HTC is trying to perfect the past.
Recently HTC announced the successor to the One – its best selling phone in the company’s history – called the HTC One M8. At 90% aluminum, it’s a beautiful phone. Something anyone would love to be seen walking around with. In addition the rear sports two cameras – one for image capture and another specifically dedicated for depth information which means you can adjust the images like a pro after the shot has taken place.
In short – it’s a marvelous piece of work. So what’s the problem? Few people will find out about it and ultimately few people will care.
The issue is Apple and Samsung effectively own the smartphone market – both companies can create really nice phones and both companies can spend billions of dollars on marketing and advertising. Conversely, HTC must rely on a paltry advertising budget in addition to gadget blogs and word-of-mouth advertising to evangelize it’s new creation. Unfortunately these methods won’t reach very many people. The revenue HTC needs to resurrect the company that built the first mainstream Android phone will likely fall short of expectations and HTC will return to the same place they found themselves shortly after the HTC One was released – great reviews, best wishes and paltry sales. When you only sell one phone to support the company, rather than many as they did in their hayday, that phone better be revolutionary. Despite it’s stunning looks and incredible specs, the One M8 is still very evolutionary.
Facing this situation, what choices does HTC have?
I’d like to suggest two simple options which both relate back to the four types of innovation that I wrote about shortly after starting this blog:
- Create a breakthrough smartphone with functionality that absorbs more jobs to be done than the other smartphones on the market
- Enter a new market – specifically wearables
Creating The Next Smartphone Revolution
The first option is what the One M8 is intended to achieve. The issue is that the M8 does little if nothing to help consumers do “more jobs” with their phone than they can with their competitors phone. The jobs all smartphones do today are essentially the same jobs that the original iPhone did – only now the newest phones do those jobs a little better.
For example, when the original iPhone came out in 2007 it was the first phone to do email, web, music and phone functions in a remarkably simple way that everyone could easily use. Other phones did those functions but the iPhone was the first to allow the consumer to execute all those functions on one device simply and with repeated success. I know from first hand experience because I used to have a Palm Treo. It did all of those things but was so cumbersome and confusing to use that I mostly used it for email and phone and rarely tried bothering with music or the internet (every time I did try it was a painful experience). The added power, simplicity and ease of use is what made the iPhone dominant over the competition when it first arrived.
Fast forward to today and virtually all smartphones announced since 2007 have essentially been evolutionary improvements upon the original iPhone design. Sure the processors are faster, the memory more expansive and the camera can capture sharper images but the fundamental functionality remains essentially the same.
To create the next revolution in a smartphone, HTC would need to add fundamentally new functionality in a way that was extremely simple and easy to use. Though some new functions – such as heavy content creation capabilities, instead of primarily content consumption – could be possible, the technology may not be mature enough to do them correctly. There would be big hurdles to cross that may be insurmountable for a company like HTC at this stage of the game.
The Case for HTC Wearables
The second option – enter a new market – is much more intriguing. Nobody is established in the wearables market yet. Pebble has an early lead but the overall penetration of wearables is so small that the field is still wide open for the taking.
If HTC were to focus intensely over the next 12-18 months on crafting a smartwatch that shared the power, beauty and refinement of the One M8, a device like that could give them a big shot in the arm. It might even be enough to bring them back into the circle of power players in the consumer electronics market.
So far Motorola is the only wearable that looks like it makes a positive fashion statement. The other smartwatches from Pebble, Sony, LG and Samsung belong in the dust bin of techno-nerd experiments in early adoption. If HTC is good at design – and the One M8 proves they are – I could see them creating a smartwatch that proves useful for users and acts as a fine piece of smart jewelry – what the One M8 probably should have been in the first place.
Update: Evidently HTC has promised to launch a smartwatch by Christmas!