HTC needs to figure out what the heck it's doing, pronto

21st Aug 2013 | 23:36

HTC needs to figure out what the heck it's doing, pronto

Having great products is only part of the picture

HTC is suffering from a crisis of direction and identity, and it needs to get a grip fast.

Though the Taiwanese company can lay claim to one of the most highly regarded phones in the world, it's struggling for sales. Its stock price is reportedly at an 8-year low, audio partner Beats is said to be plotting an ouster and executives are fleeing.

It also has a leader who has critics arguing whether he can turn HTC around or stands as the obstacle in revival's way.

In a Reuters report published on Aug. 20, 12 former and current HTC executives spoke out against CEO Peter Chou, saying his abrasive management style and lack of strategic vision have contributed to the company's hard times.

We've never sat in on an HTC manager meeting, so whether allegations of a shoot-from-the-hip approach to product planning and the open berating of managers was true or still continues, we can't truly know.

But all you have to do is look at the HTC we have today to see that this is a company in need of righting. Here are a few suggestions to help it get its act together before we bid adieu for good.

HTC First, One and then some

Let's start with April's HTC First. The phone itself was fine, but the decision to partner with Facebook on the non-Facebook Facebook phone was misguided. Producing a mid-range handset that either plays host to a constant Facebook presence or, when you turn Facebook Home off, a nondescript Android experience is the definition of confused identity.

HTC, led by Chou, may be able to adjust to the calls of the market quickly, so it's not surprising it jumped on the chance to capitalize on this crazy thing called Facebook, but how did it fit in the company's long-term strategy? It didn't.

HTC First

Then the sun came through the clouds, and we were gifted with the magnificent HTC One, a device that does seem to be having a positive impact on the company. It may not be the savior HTC hoped for, but at least it's given the phone maker some industry cred. It could've been, and still could be, a truly heroic device, if the company allows it.

Because where do you go after you launch a universally lauded phone? To variations, of course! How very trendy of you HTC. Have you been paying attention to Samsung's Galaxy line, by any chance?

HTC introduced the HTC One Mini last month and like its big brother, it's a well-reviewed phone.

But winning over reviewers and giving customers a product they end up buying are two different things. The phone is only now starting to go on sale (Aug. 23 in the U.S.), so whether people flock to the downsized (in more ways than one) HTC One Mini or it enters the land of why-did-they-do-it derivations, we don't yet know.

It will likely be very attractive to consumers in its price point ($99.99 in the U.S.) but is it good enough and different enough to defeat other low- to mid-range entrants as time goes on?

HTC Mini

HTC is also rumored to be readying an HTC One Max, which could easily cannibalize the already not-so-superb sales of the One as well as the Mini as it's just taking flight. We've actually argued against HTC plopping a One-branded phablet on the market, and as John McCann wrote, the One Max stands to overshadow the One, further crippling HTC.

HTC has to compete, and part of that, at least in the world of smartphones, is coming up with new devices at a clip that keeps customers' attention. We get that. But HTC is different in that the HTC One is such a strong device, and the company is at a critical cross roads, that perhaps product restraint and a more spaced out product cycle would have been the more prudent approach.

That, however, sounds very un-Chou.

What's my name again?

If there's one thing Apple has really nailed down, it's a brand. You can argue the merits of its products (and many other things), but there's no denying Apple is one of the world's most recognized companies. Coke may have ruled the 20th century, but the 21st belongs to Cupertino.

It isn't alone in solid brand recognition however, as Google, Microsoft and T-Mobile all have successfully conveyed, with varying degrees of success, company values, logos, colors and product lines.

HTC could use a dose of this, without a doubt. It's taking some steps to personalize its marketing, releasing on Aug. 14 a new ad spot staring uber-cool Robert Downey Jr. The reaction was generally positive, and while the ad took a tongue-in-cheek look at what "HTC" stands for, it struck on a deeper cord than oddball humor.


What does HTC stand for? Not the letters – we liked "hipster troll carwash"– but what are the company's values? Can it refresh the used-by-others green and black color scheme? What story is its products trying to tell?

Downey Jr. tells us HTC stands for "Happy Telephone Company," a voice over purrs "Here's to Change," and it's anything you want it to be, according to the mustachioed gentleman, but we think HTC could stand to gravitate towards a more concrete message, one that resonates with consumers.

That takes strategic planning and long-term vision. Bringing Iron Man in is the first step in a larger refreshing process, we're sure, but HTC should think long and hard about what it is and what it wants to be and sell us on that idea, before we stop wanting it completely.

The leadership question

Finally, is getting rid of Chou the answer? It may not be as simple as that.

Chou is still considered the heart of the company, and HTC said in a statement sent to Reuters that it's committed to his leadership. It credited "Peter's vision and leadership" in making the One product family a well-received entrant, so at least publically, it's sticking with Chou for now.

The CEO has said he has no plans to leave, and according to Reuters' insiders, there's no clear internal successor anyway. That is reportedly breeding poor morale besides, you know, the whole berating thing.

So what's HTC to do, if its flawed leader isn't going anywhere?

As higher-up tensions die down (Reuters noted the "old guard has re-established" itself at the company) HTC is best to buckle down, plot what its future looks like, and figure out how to get there. If Chou needs convincing, then find out what it takes to get the message across loud and clear.

It doesn't have to the be No. 1 phone maker in the world, but the way it's going now, we're not even sure if it could be a viable phone maker in three to five years.

Thankfully, HTC is making great products, and the One is a strong foundation for HTC to build on. Strengthening its core offerings, building better brand identity and doing whatever it takes to remedy what sounds like a pretty awful leadership situation are the other keys to get HTC's ship sailing forward.

Take a look in the mirror, HTC, and get it together ASAP.

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