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HTC vs Samsung: Why HTC is losing the fight big time

HTC vs Samsung: Why HTC is losing the fight big time
Up until recently, HTC meant much more than it means now in the Android universe. It was a big factor. HTC's smartphones stood for quality, reliability and experience that are unmatched by any other Android manufacturer. Today, HTC is going through its biggest slump ever, with many analysts believing that it will never be the go-to company it once was.


THE SLUMP

It all happened pretty quickly, and few of us actually saw it coming. Until that disastrous fourth quarter of 2011, HTC was basically raking in record profits every new quarter. Then, suddenly, the Q4 2011 report of the company came to announce a staggering income drop of 41.1% compared to the previous quarter, and all of this when you have in mind the traditionally strong Holiday season. Something must have gone terribly wrong for HTC, as such dramatic drops rarely occur without a reason. So, what could have caused it?

Before the release of the Samsung Galaxy S II, it was HTC which made the killer Android phones. They weren't necessarily as pretty as they were in the early days, but they had killer specs and large screens that were so appealing to the Android crowd. When the Galaxy S II came out, however, it easily trumped HTC's efforts. The S II was faster and thinner than HTC's finest at that time - the EVO 3D. While Samsung's phones were getting visibly better, it was like High Tech Computer's line-up was becoming increasingly stagnant. There was little change between models, and eventually users just started to care less and less about what HTC was doing. With a flagship smartphone like the HTC Rezound, which was pretty good, but couldn't get noticed due to the buzz generated by the Galaxy S II, the Galaxy Note and the later-than-usual launch of the iPhone 4S, it was a critical moment for HTC, which eventually caused it to lose all traction.

With things not getting back to normal for HTC, the Taiwanese manufacturer decided that it has seen enough, and undertook a radical overhaul of its line up. At MWC 2012, it introduced the One series, which featured the new flagship model, One X, a mid-range offering in the One S, and a budget-oriented solution, called One V. The public was excited, and once again, the Android pioneer showed that it's a force to be reckoned with. Of course, all eyes were on the One X, as HTC clearly made a statement that this will be the one Android smartphone when it comes out. What happened next? Well, the One X came out, some said it's the best Android phone ever, others didn't share their opinion, and HTC continued to report weak financial results, with some analysts going as far as to compare its fate with the ones of Nokia and RIM. Is it really that bad?

Not yet, but it may get there, if the company doesn't take immediate actions to change its thinking. In our opinion, although some external factors may also be at play here, HTC's products themselves are the biggest reason for HTC's poor market performance lately.


UX IS KING

HTC is traditionally strong when it comes to design. There's no doubt about that and the company has showed it many times. Except for some relatively small elements, the One X is one helluva good-looking smartphone - much better-looking than Samsung's current flagship, the Galaxy S III. Still, there's no doubt that the Galaxy S III will sell much more, compared to HTC's finest. No, we don't believe that brand-recognition has so much to do here. Everyone who has actually held both handsets in their hands will tell you that the HTC feels way better. The problem, we believe, resides in the sub-par user experience of the handset. Don't get us wrong, the One X performs very well, but it just isn't on the same level as the other devices in its class.

The HTC One X was supposed to bringthe company back to relevancy,but it largely failed in its fightagainst the Samsung Galaxy S III
As it stands currently, the latest Sense UI does more to hamper the Android ICS user experience than to improve it. We can understand the need to differentiate a product that runs the same software as its competitors, but not when this actually holds the device back. Of course, most of these software problems can be fixed by installing third-party software, or even flashing a custom ROM, but this isn't a solution. When your competitors are offering perfectly good stock applications, you cannot afford to offer a weaker experience, and require your users to search for more appropriate 3rd-party software. When you think about it, normal customers (those who create the volume that manufacturers need to stay afloat) would rarely need any additional features that are often found with third-party apps. Most often, the features built into the system's core apps are more than enough. That's why it's a big deal if customers can't find that basic functionality in the built-in apps. We're of course referring to the browser in the Sense-powered One X, which is simply disastrous (for that class of phones). Clumsy user interface, unintuitive navigation, slow Flash performance... and all of this is really important, since the browser is among the most used applications of any smartphone.

But the browser isn't the only weak element in the Sense machine that can ruin the experience for users. the whole Sense UI itself isn't among the most stable ones out there, sometimes crashing completely, and wasting time to reload the homescreen, widgets, and everything else.

Now, as unpleasing to the eye as the Galaxy S III can be, this is something you won't experience with it. The thing is that the Samsung phone works, and it works well. It's snappy and creates the impression of seamless, light operation that just allows you to get things done quickly and efficiently. Despite all its efforts, HTC hasn't been able to enhance its UI in such a way that would make it more easy to use.


THE SOLUTION

There are several things that HTC has to work on if it wants to remain relevant on the market. The first thing is to fine-tune its handset line-up's design characteristics. What we mean by that is that HTC should have a high-end, big-screened smartphone to compete with the increasingly bigger devices introduced by Samsung. Meanwhile, however, even if it doesn't have the vast resources of Samsung, it needs to pay close attention to the 3.7"-4.3" range. The One S was a good try, but it had some issues with its hyped ceramic coating, and such kind of things usually tend to drive customers away from a model. And of course, it also had Sense. Whether HTC should focus on the low end, especially with all these talks of it going to China, is a tough question. HTC is a company that has always produced higher-end gear, so it should be just fine if it doesn't have a very strong presence in that part of the market. Still, maybe we're inclined to say that considering the traditionally weak budget-oriented devices by HTC.

Secondly, HTC should stop making big promises. Take, for example, the ImageSense camera, which is outperformed by most of its competition, although it was said to be the next big thing in smartphone photography. And then we have Sense, which needs to be dramatically reworked. The UI has to get much simpler, with a bit less options, and faster, smoother operation. Users who demand great customization options usually know how to get them, so there's no need to scare the mass public away.

At the end of the day, we believe that there's still time for HTC to refocus and regain its lost positions as a premium Android smartphone manufacturer, but it needs to act quickly, because the other sharks in the pool are growing bigger and bigger by the day.

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