Extremely long post ahead. Please make sure your stomach is full, and your bladder empty before continuing further. Skip the tl;dr if you are brave enough!
tl;dr – HTC started making similar phones, locked bootloaders, made its skin too bloated and slapped the Beats Audio branding as a gimmick. Made lots of promises in 2012 with One series, but they all turned out to be a dud. To save their ass, they need to fulfil their promises and support the Android modding community.
HTC was the first handset manufacturer to release an Android running phone, the T-Mobile G1. Both, HTC and Android have grown to great heights within a short span of time, and have complemented each other’s growth. Without HTC, Android might not have ever taken off. Without Android, HTC would have been still known for making Windows Mobile based phones and its Sense skin.
However, over the last 1.5 years or so, HTC’s growth has slowed down tremendously while Android has continued to grow and has grabbed nearly 50% of the world mobile OS market share. So how is it that a company that helped an OS grow, is suddenly struggling with its profits and market share shrinking with every passing quarter, when the OS in itself is reaching new heights?
No, it’s not Samsung that is to be blamed for HTC’s falling market share here. HTC is itself responsible for its own demise.
In 2010, the company released some iconic handsets like the Sprint EVO 4G, Desire, and the Desire HD.
In 2011, when the company’s fortune changed for the worse, it released more than 15 different handsets all that were hardly different from each other. At MWC in 2011, which is arguably the biggest mobile tech event of the year, the company unveiled three single core phones – Incredible S, Desire S and the Wildfire S. The first two handsets had the exact same internals, except for some minor differences, which in turn had the same internals as the 2010 high-end phone from HTC — the Desire HD.
Yes, these phones looked different, had different resolution cameras, and a few other differences, but they were ultimately powered by the same 1GHz single-core processor and packed the same amount of RAM. The worst part was that these phones were priced way too close to each other to make any sense. The Desire HD retailed for around the 30k mark in India in 2010, while the Incredible S and Desire S costed 28k and 25k respectively when launched in India in early 2011. The Galaxy S2, which Samsung had also announced at MWC, was also priced around the 30k mark, and was much better than these handsets from HTC.
Then in March, HTC announced its first dual-core phone, the HTC Sensation. On paper, the Sensation looked like a decent competitor to the Galaxy S2, with a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon S3 processor, 768MB of RAM, an 8MP camera and a qHD (960*640) resolution screen.
Sadly, HTC’s greatest advantage — Sense — turned out to be its biggest disadvantage in the Sensation. The Sense 3.0 skin from HTC was way too bloated, and even lagged on a dual-core powered smartphone, which was downright unacceptable. Random reboots, poor battery life, and a sub-par camera were other serious issues with the phone, that did not go down well with the few Sensation users.
Adding salt on the wound of the original Sensation owners, was the Sensation XE, that the company released just a couple of months later on. The Sensation XE packed similar internals to the original Sensation, except for a slightly faster 1.5GHz processor, a much better 8MP camera, a Beats Audio logo and a beefier battery.
As 2011 progressed, HTC kept on releasing phones that made little sense. The Sensation XL had a big 4.7-inch screen but was powered by a single core processor and was priced higher than the Sensation and Sensation XE, which was downright stupid. The HTC Rhyme, Amaze 4G, Vivid, Hero S, and the Raider 4G are other phones that the company should have never released.
By releasing so many phones that barely had any difference, HTC confused its potential customers who ultimately brought a Galaxy S II or other Galaxy branded phone from Samsung.
Beats Audio Filled Non-Sense And Broken Promises
In a pre-Android 4.0 world, HTC’s Sense skin was considered to be the best OEM Android skin out there. However, in 2010, HTC made its biggest advantage its biggest weakness as well. The Sense 3.0 skin from the company looked downright jaw-dropping beautiful, but it was slow and was just too bloated. Even in 2012, it is not uncommon to see the HTC’s Sense launcher — Rosie — restart itself after a session of gaming.
HTC loyalists and quite a lot of other people still preferred HTC’s Sense skin over Samsung’s childish and ugly TouchWIZ. Most people would just install a de-bloated Sense based custom ROM and be happy with their phone.
Then, in late 2011, Google announced Ice Cream Sandwich, that completely over-hauled the look of Android OS. Stock Android in itself looked beautiful now, and there was no need for OEM customisations. However, OEMs needed skins to differentiate their Android handsets from each other, and thus continued with their skins.
In 2012, HTC finally realised its mistake of releasing so many handsets and unveiled the ‘One’ series of phones. The One X and One S have a build quality to die for, power packed internals, decent camera and battery life and sufficient storage space. The company also de-bloated Sense 4.0 and made it much lighter.
Once again, things looked good on paper for HTC and it looked like that the Taiwanese maker finally had an answer to Samsung’s Galaxy series. The One X sold like hot cakes when it was initially released, but soon people realised that not all is well with the phone. HTC may have made Sense 4.0 lighter than before, but the skin was still a resource hogger. HTC had also
tweaked broke the multi-tasking on the One X to optimise battery life.
While I completely understand OEM skins are very-much needed to differentiate handsets, they should add some useful features instead of adding some useless gimmicky features.
There was no sign of the Holo inspired Magazine style swipe UI in Sense 4.0. The company even removed the stock Android 4.0 animations to include its own, which made little sense. With Android apps themselves using the Holo theme with Swipe gestures, the lack of the Holo theme and swipe gestures in Sense 4.0 was downright stupid from HTC. If anything this will create more confusion among users and lead to UI inconsistency, and ultimately give Android a bad name.
HTC, and even Samsung, should learn from Sony and Motorola on UI skinning. Sony’s skin adds some much needed features to core Android, without going over-board. Motorola has also done an excellent job with its skin with the ICS update for the RAZR. The company has changed the icons and add some tweaks but has otherwise left the Holo theme on ICS untouched.
HTC had also invested heavily in Beats Audio and started branding its phones with the Beats Audio logo. The Sensation XE was the first phone from HTC to carry the Beats Audio logo, but at that time Beats Audio was nothing more than a software tweak.
In 2012, it was expected that HTC will release phones that live up to the Beats Audio branding. Things however, took turn for the worse. The international One X carried the Beats Audio logo, but the sound quality of the phone was pathetic to put it politely. The Beats Audio feature still remained nothing but a software tweak that only boosted bass and did nothing else.
HTC’s promise of the ‘One’ brand was also broken with the release of the EVO 4G LTE on the Sprint network and the Droid Incredible 4G LTE on Verizon’s.
On the other hand, Samsung managed to release the Galaxy S III on all the major carriers of the United States without any modifications in design, name or software thus maintained the ‘Galaxy S’ brand. Oh! and while the International Samsung Galaxy S III does not come with the Beats Audio logo or anything similar, it does come with a Wolfson DAC that provides an excellent audio quality.
They Locked It!
Until 2010, HTC handsets were the favorite of the Android modding community. CM and other AOSP based ROMs were always available for all HTC handsets within weeks of the release of the handset. In 2011, HTC started locking bootloaders on its handsets starting with the Thunderbolt. This unexpected move from HTC definitely shocked the whole Android community. The whole Android community took a stand against this with numerous petitions, but HTC turned a deaf ear to them. It was only when the company’s handset sale stared falling that the company realized its mistake and promised to release a bootloader unlocking tool for its handsets, which the company soon did.
Once again, things looked good on paper but were not in real life. HTC’s bootloader unlocking tool only did its job partially and did not provide true S-OFF, making the rooting process of their phones much more complex. All this did not go down well with the Android community and they started recommending Samsung’s Galaxy series of phones over HTC phones to normal users.
How Can HTC Rescue Themselves?
Fulfill all your promises. Don’t use the Beats Audio for just marketing, deliver brilliant music quality from your phone as well. Tone down Sense. Yes, you already did that with Sense 4.0 and 4.1, but you need to tone it down even more. Use Sense to add some useful features to your phones. Follow the rule of Don’t fix it if it hasn’t broken. Provide developers with full S-OFF, and for God’s sake don’t release a XL or XL+ model, which as rumors suggest you are going to do with the One X.