HTC: iPhone's 'quiet' rival

2010-09-06 08:23

Beijing - East Asia is the world's electronics factory, yet unless they are Japanese, producers are largely anonymous.

Now HTC Corp, a Taiwanese maker of smart phones, is moving out of the shadows and trying to establish its own brand name as it competes with Apple's iPhone.

HTC supplies US carriers Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile but says a year ago only one in 10 Americans knew its name. With the help of marketing by cellular carriers and HTC's own television ads during the baseball World Series, HTC says that number is up to 40%.

"We want to be one of the leaders," said John Wang, the 13-year-old company's chief marketing officer.

In trying to establish a global brand, HTC is following in the footsteps of another Taiwanese company, Acer Inc, which is battling Dell Inc for the title of second-largest personal computer maker. Other rising Taiwanese technology names include software producer Trend Micro Inc and Asustek Computer Inc, a maker of PCs and cell phones.

Early adopters

HTC's path to its own brand has been complicated by US carriers' preference for many years to market its phones under their own brands.

That started to change in 2007, and the "HTC" brand started showing up on phones, as carriers figured that the company had some cachet among early adopters that they could capitalise on. HTC phones on the US market include the Droid Incredible, sold by Verizon Wireless, the HD2, sold by T-Mobile USA, and the Hero, sold by Sprint Nextel Corp.

Even now, HTC is careful to avoid straining ties with carriers by promoting its own identity too aggressively. Such ties are crucial in the US, Japan and other markets where carriers usually pick which phones to offer. In Europe and elsewhere, customers pick their own phones and buy service separately.

"I don't think it should ever become a 'destination phone', because that is very arrogant," Wang said.

The company's slogan, "Quietly Brilliant", expresses both modesty and pride. Apple, of course, is anything but quiet, and HTC sets itself apart from the US-based giant in other ways, too.

In contrast to lookalike iPhones, HTC tries to make handsets for every taste, some with slide-out keyboards, others with touch screens. While Apple has its own online store, HTC focuses on phones while carriers pick which music and applications to offer.

"This is positioning the vendor almost diametrically against the increasing perception of Apple as an egotistical and domineering company," Seth Wallis-Jones, an analyst for IHS Global Insight, said in an email.

"This is a contrast to a company that wants to do one phone only and say, 'This is the one and you are going to love it and if you don't, there is something wrong with you,"' Wang said.

Sales jump

In the US, HTC made a splash this year by producing the first phone, the EVO 4G, that's able to use a fourth-generation wireless data network. It's sold by Sprint. HTC also manufactured Google Inc's first phone, the Nexus One.

"These really put the brand into the spotlight in the United States," said Wallis-Jones.

Still, Apple has a daunting sales lead and HTC also faces competition from South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co, Nokia Corp and other rivals.

HTC was just behind Apple in the final quarter of 2008, selling 3.7 million phones to its American rival's 4.4 million, according to Wallis-Jones. A year and a half later, Apple has pulled ahead, selling 8.4 million in the second quarter of this year, while HTC sold 5.4 million.

But HTC is seeing its sales jump. It expects to ship 6.5 million phones in the current quarter; more than twice the number it shipped in the same period in 2009.

HTC cut its teeth on smart phones that used Microsoft Corp's Windows Mobile software. But when Google released its Android smart phone software in 2008, HTC was the first manufacturer on board, and that has paid off. Every US carrier except AT&T, the home of the iPhone, is pushing Android phones as the alternative to the iPhone.

HTC is pitted against Apple in the legal arena as well. Apple sued HTC in March in the US, accusing it of violating 20 iPhone patents. In May, HTC filed a countersuit accusing Apple of violating five patents.


Among consumers, HTC needs to create a distinctive identity as more than a manufacturer, said Joseph Pai, chairman of advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather Taiwan.

"They get the technology right, but Apple is considered fun and creative and very bright," said Pai. "HTC is quite serious. Their technology is good. They keep coming out with new products. But they need to find their own personality."

HTC is working on that, trying to build a reputation for anticipating users' needs and inventing appealing solutions, Wang said. The company calls that "HTC Sense" and says it wants to create "moments of delight".

Its innovations include allowing users to group together friends' email, social networking and other contacts under their names, while the iPhone requires separate contact lists for each function. HTC phones can sense when they are in a pocket or purse and ring louder. The EVO has a tiny kickstand to stand upright for video conferencing.

HTC promotes itself as a cross-border brand, with no mention of its Taiwanese roots. The company holds major product launches in London or New York, rather than Asia.

"People don't really think of Sony as Japanese any more. That's what I envision HTC to be," Wang said. "Eventually people will see HTC as a global brand, not necessarily from Taiwan or Europe or the US."

  • piet - 2010-09-06 08:47

    I owned HTC Touch pro2; supposedly their top of the line. It is the biggest piece of JUNK cellphone I ever owned. Hangs up all the time, and even phoning and sms'ing is a mission to accomplish with their clumsy user interface. So happy I'm back with decent phones (Nokia) again

  • Troffel - 2010-09-06 08:55

    ""This is a contrast to a company that wants to do one phone only and say, 'This is the one and you are going to love it and if you don't, there is something wrong with you,"' Wang said." Hahaha - gotta love it. He is right though. Steve Jobs is an ass. Apple is over rated and the only reason "most" people buy Apple is because of "status" - "OOOH, I've got an iPhone. My fart now smells of strawberries." pffft

  • Litchii - 2010-09-06 09:40

    They are great phones especially the Android versions but it's just a pity Leaf deliver such bad support for HTC phones in South Africa. We have been waiting for months for Software upgrades and no feedback from Leaf. I wouldn't buy another HTC phone while in South Africa.

  • HTC Desire owner - 2010-09-06 09:46

    Awesome phone but Android market paid apps and other features not available in South Africa yet!

  • rupa - 2010-09-06 10:24

    Two words...

    Droid 2

  • Brandon - 2010-09-06 10:31

    I agree with Troffel. iPhones have become more of a status symbol while the users rarely access half of its uses.
    I've owned 2 HTC's, the first ran Windows Mobile and the second Android, and while the latter is a massive improvement over the former, the older phone still works brilliantly after 3+ years of service.
    I have owned many phones, but none has been more of a pleasure to use than my HTC Tattoo; there is not a function i cannot use and those functions I don't use,I simply remove. HTC and Android is truly geared at functionality for the individual consumer rather than sticking Apps down your throat with no other options

  • chris - 2010-09-06 10:32

    I own a HTC HD2 and it is phenomenal.

  • Bok4life - 2010-09-06 10:50

    Hahaha HTC is a joke!! I agree with Piet. I had the Htc Diamond, what a load of CR@P! i hated it and to use it is such a mission. i am also back with Nokia soon to be BB!!

  • HTC HD2 owner - 2010-09-06 11:05

    Have had the HTC HD2 for months now and itd an awesome phone with awesome features! As for upgrades, I apply the US hotfixes for my phone which can be found on the htc official website and it works like a charm. Oh and XDA developers site is a must visit for HD2 owners

  • Jennifer - 2010-09-06 12:18

    I just love my HTC S710 and am now on my second handset (that's how long I've been using this particular make & model). Pity it's no longer stocked by Leaf here in SA - my contract is up for renewal and I wish I could opt for the S710 again.

  • Troffel - 2010-09-06 12:31

    I'm looking forward to the new Windows Phone 7 Series OS. Paired with HTC it will be great. I'm due for upgrade in a month or two and my eyes are dead set on those two combined in my pocket.

  • Slade Augustine - 2010-09-06 13:26

    I agree with Jen , i too have my htc s710 for 3 years almost, and its great. Screen size and quality is great, with a few fixes internet speed improves as well.

  • DV8 - 2010-09-06 13:38

    I've had the TYTN II and now have the HD2. Both phones brilliant.

  • wkdSA - 2010-09-06 13:54

    I agree with @Litchii. I love my HTC Hero, but the support from Leaf is non-existant. Been waiting months now for the android update, but Leaf has not delivered.

  • Desire - 2010-09-06 14:12

    Got the HTC desire a month ago, awesome phone. Built quality and performance is excellent. Received my 2.2 android upgrade over the air. Had windows mobile 6.5 on a samsung omnia it was horrible...

  • Chen_dogg - 2010-09-06 15:49

    HTC Desire: best phone out there. tried the iphone, nokia N97, and Sony ericsson walkmans...

    Sure, Ill be the 1st to admit that HTC's phones have been terrible in the past, but their new line really is incredible. AMAZING FUNCTIONALITY, open OS (so the apps are just that much better than apple), and pretty good aesthetics. Desire vs iphone 3gs, desire kills it. vs iphone 4G, personal preference. its like google chrome vs appple safari. one looks sleek, the other does more (google of course...).


    (and it syncs all your accounts into one. iphone 4, you cant do that, hence YOU LOSE.)

  • TPRapheal... - 2010-09-06 16:50

    I've had my Touch Pro for 3yrs now and it's by far the best phone I've ever owned. Like the other guy said, get onto XDA Dev site and try get the optimized fixes for your device. Simply amazing what I can do with it. Email, Documents, FB/Gtalk/MSN chat, Garmin GPS, YouTube and a whole lot more. Currently waiting for them to release a good qwerty droid. Might just go for the Moto Milestone 2, depending how long it takes for them to release one.

  • Stanley - 2010-09-06 18:51

    I use iPhone and it is awesome. I would not say HTC's phone is bad merely because I love my iPhone. I tried my friends' HTC and found that they were good. The only disadvantage is the smaller number of apps available at present.

  • mark - 2010-09-07 18:45

    HTC for the win. if your a technitian, windos mobile is the only way to go, and HTC have got the right formula. I had a P4350 a few years ago and it was the best phone ever, in fact i suggested it to a friend and he got a 2nd hand one and he swears by it.

    for those of you who dont like REAL technology, stick with apple and hve fun looking cool.

  • Desire - 2010-09-22 15:37

    All the HTC's with Windows Mobile is in fact junk.. Because Windows Mobile is junk. So yes, the Diamond, HD2 etc. is a no go. I just got an HTC Desire, and it is amazing! I would take it over an iPhone any day! Don't judge HTC on their older phones.. I really think this is the best phone on the South African market at the moment. (It even gives the iPhone 4 a go, since that phone is bloody expensive and has reception problems.) Blackberry is only better for business, HTC Desire is WAY more user friendly.

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