Once one of the world’s best smartphone brands many years ago, Taiwan’s HTC just announced it will lay off 1,500 people, one-quarter of its workforce. HTC has actually been in a very long slump in revenues and profits, so this news is not that big a surprise. But it is still sad because I’ve only used HTC smartphones and it really was one of the top smartphone brands in the world, a rarity for a Taiwanese company. I didn’t just get HTC because it was Taiwanese, but also because its phones were good and stylish. My current phone, a HTC E8, has lasted me for over three and a half years and counting. And my previous one, HTC Incredible S, is still running though I only use it as a backup when traveling. Both of those phones worked really well, and were reliable, robust and easy to use. And that is why it’s a shame that HTC has kept falling. They still keep making really good phones.
However, tech site Techcrunch has felt compelled to proclaim HTC as good as “gone”.
HTC’s technical prowess didn’t prevent it from being overshadowed by Samsung in the Android market, and it was never as cool as the iPhone (noone was or is). While its phones were comparable to Samsung, HTC could never match the Korean conglomerate’s marketing muscle. And to be honest, given the Taiwanese corporate habit of neglecting marketing and spending little, one wonders whether HTC really did as much as it could in that area. But I’ve read things online claiming that HTC was also the victim of false reviews, and that it was frozen out of component supply chains by larger companies so it either had to suffer delays or source lesser parts. It is ironic that Chinese smartphone companies like Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo have boomed, both in China and in developing markets like India, though they were able to take advantage of a large domestic market and being able to price their products cheaply.
HTC has always perceived itself as a mid-to-high-end brand but this means they lose out on the lower-end market while finding it hard competing with Apple and Samsung. If only HTC could have succeeded in its marketing and branding, more people would have seen it as a viable alternative to Samsung, LG and even Apple. Last year, HTC signed a US$1.1 billion deal with Google in which half of HTC’s smartphone R & D team went over to Google, which provided some kind of life support.
However, HTC has gotten into virtual reality and they’ve been putting a lot of effort into their Vive product line. While it hasn’t been too successful yet, hopefully this can help HTC carry on into the future. It would be a pity if HTC were to really end up like fallen phone giants Nokia and Motorola. It would be bad for Taiwan as well, which needs more companies to succeed as brands and not as OEMs that only make parts and goods for other companies. Asus and Acer are two other Taiwanese electronics brands that are relatively well-known worldwide (the latter more for PCs), but neither has come close to HTC’s success in phones.