Back in 1997, Cher Wang and Peter Chou co-founded HTC, back then they were a contract manufacturer, designing hardware like PDAs and phones for networks happy to let someone else do the manufacturing. Fast forward to 2006 and HTC were selling smart devices under their own name and in the next few years, they would become known for premium devices like the HTC Touch Diamond which had great hardware design and some of the best-looking software found on any smartphone. Soon after, HTC launched the first Android smartphone, the T-Mobile G1, and fast forward a little more to 2011 and HTC were one of the biggest names in the smartphone business, with devices like the HTC Sensation and Evo 4G showing the world just how good a smartphone could be. Then, Samsung happened.
While Samsung’s rise to the top of the Android tower was not the deciding factor in the Taiwanese company’s fall from grace, it certainly nailed it home. Back in Q4 of 2013, HTC had roughly 3% of the smartphone market, while Samsung had roughly 30% doubling Apple’s 15% or so as of Q4 2013. Not only were HTC being squeezed from the top with Samsung and Apple taking the high-end smartphone market, Chinese manufacturers were offering more compelling devices at lower prices, squeezing HTC at the low-end of the market.
Today, HTC has roughly 2% of the smartphone market, depending on who you ask and devices like the HTC One M9 and decent customer perks like UH OH protection might not help bring them back from near-death status. To be clear, I’ve always been a fan of HTC, I had an HTC One X back in 2012 and I adored the HTC One M8 when I reviewed it. With a lackluster “flagship” in the form of the M9, I’m less impressed and the recent reshuffle of Chairwoman Cher Wang to the CEO’s chair might not be able to save the company.
When we think of faces of companies, Apple had Steve Jobs – now Tim Cook – Samsung has J.K. Shin and HTC has had Peter Chou. Chou is a man many will describe as an excellent designer and stories tell of how he can put a smartphone launch together in just months, as he did with the Sensation XL (or so goes the story). However, those inside of HTC have been weighing up whether or not Mr Chou has the strategic vision to take HTC back to the golden days of 2011. Cher Wang has often been credited as the driving force keeping HTC afloat and we’ve already seen her take a more customer-facing role during Mobile World Congress this year. Speaking of her new role, she told Bloomberg that she “knows the company, knows the people, and has the vision. I think I am the best candidate. I suggested it.”
Passion, drive and an attachment to the Apple brand is what arguably kept Steve Jobs going to revive Apple from an obscure computer company in the nineties to one of the world’s most valuable brands. Wang has a lot invested in HTC, she co-founded the company and has been there ever since. Unlike many executives that left the company last year, Wang and Chou have stayed with the ship. Chou has had his turn at righting the ship during troubled waters and now Ms Wang is trying her hand at putting HTC back on course. Devices like the RE, Grip and HTC Vive that work with products other than HTC’s own – including the iPhone – could help the company turn things around in 2015, but after a few years of failing to turn things around, it seems right for Chou to step down. He’s not leaving the company though, and will in fact be involved in handset design and innovation, something he seems well suited for.
It would be a terrible shame to see HTC go the way of Palm, and hopefully Ms Wang can turn things around at HTC. The company that showed the world that Android phones can be built out of premium materials and look great, HTC has a great core user experience and it’ll be interesting to see what Ms Wang does throughout the rest of 2015 to drive growth and build the brand back up. Both Apple and Samsung, the two giants of the mobile world now offer things the original HTC One did that were so revolutionary and HTC now find themselves in the position of standing still when compared to the iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6. If the HTC One M9 is an indication of HTC turning things around, then 2015 might be another rough year for the ailing company, let’s just hope their new Captain has a fresh plan for 2016 and beyond.