BlackBerry and Nokia are coming back from the dead, so is there also hope for HTC?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
BlackBerry and Nokia are coming back from the dead, so is there also hope for HTC?
Samsung and Apple have been dominating the global smartphone market for the better part of a decade now, but those unfamiliar with the mobile industry’s history might be shocked to hear the names of the other top five companies just seven years ago.

Back in Q3 2011, Samsung’s lead over Apple was already starting to grow, while Nokia ranked third after years of crushing command, HTC was fourth with over 10 percent share, and RIM, aka BlackBerry, followed in fifth after its own Nokia-style fall from grace.

Why are we talking about 2011 rankings and numbers? In short, to highlight two unlikely comebacks and find out if a third one is also in the cards. Granted, both Nokia and BlackBerry (especially BlackBerry) have a lot of work to do before fully regaining their relevance, but these are still two brands magically recovering from the brink of death. Can HTC realistically hope for the same?

Let’s start at the beginning


That HTC Dream was a dreamy-looking handset, wasn't it?

It’s no big secret that HTC has had a tough past few years. In fact, it’s been so hard lately to turn a profit that the company gave up some precious intellectual property and a talented team of design and research employees in exchange for a $1.1 billion Google payment. If that’s not desperation, I don’t know what is.

Founded in 1997 as a designer and manufacturer of laptop computers (bet you forgot that part), the Taiwan-based consumer electronics outfit quickly sensed the potential for growth of the nascent smartphone business.

After a couple of Windows Mobile experiments, HTC played a key role in Android’s birth and swift rise, joining forces with Google on the Dream slider, aka T-Mobile G1, then the Nexus One. 2008’s HTC Dream, mind you, was the very first commercially released device running Android, while 2010’s Evo 4G pioneered the high-speed mobile era in the US.

Sure, the Nexus One looks weird now, but so will the Galaxy Note 9 in 2026

A co-founding member of the Open Handset Alliance, HTC stood out from the smartphone manufacturer pack for several years with an incredible eye for innovation, a unique willingness to take risks, and perhaps more importantly, very close ties with major wireless service providers.

Where did it all go wrong?


2011 was HTC’s peak, but somehow, by the end of the following year, the company had already tumbled out of the world’s top seven smartphone vendors. Ironically, it was similar risks as the ones that so handsomely paid off before which threw HTC in a downward spiral with seemingly no end in sight. 2011’s Evo 3D was a useless gimmick rather than a forward thinker, the ChaCha insultingly (and poorly) copied BlackBerry designs, while 2013’s HTC First “Facebook Phone” went down in the history books with its record-breaking low sales of 15,000 units.

This monstrosity is the reason we'll probably never have a second "Facebook Phone"

By the time the HTC One was released, the market had lost all its confidence in the company’s ability to deliver a usable, practical and powerful high-end phone, which was terribly unfortunate for a product that was all of those things and more. Then came the terribly named and unimaginative derivations and iterations, most of which were overpriced, over-advertised, and... did I mention unimaginative? 

And yes, there is such a thing as excessive advertising. Especially when it’s ineffective and crazy expensive, like that billion-dollar Robert Downey Jr. campaign.

 

Is there still hope?


The short answer is absolutely. For the long one, let’s remember where Huawei was three or four years ago. Now it’s the world’s number two smartphone vendor, gunning for first place. Or let’s look back at Xiaomi’s fluctuations. After an incredibly promising start, the company stumbled in 2016, bouncing back last year, and becoming all of a sudden a global force to be reckoned with.

The 2017 Nokia 3310 is still one of the industry's most unlikely success stories

Nokia is another example of a brand that’s suffered many variations and even mutations before coming back stronger than ever (not exactly, but you get the idea), so why couldn’t HTC also capitalize on audiences willing to forgive and forget in the name of nostalgia?

But what exactly can HTC do?


First of all, the company has to make a decision. It’s a tough one, but it’s been long overdue. After trading designers for cash, laying off factory workers, and losing top talent, as well as seasoned executives, is there any point in manufacturing and marketing its own phones?

The TCL-made KEY2 looks just like a classic BlackBerry... with a modern twist

That brings us to the most obvious possible solution to these never-ending creative and money problems - a brand licensing agreement. You know, like the ones signed by BlackBerry and Nokia with TCL and HMD Global.

It’s pretty obvious that the HTC brand is still worth something for many people that remember the T-Mobile G1, Evo 4G, or even the HTC One (M7) fondly. But it’s equally obvious that those left to save this sinking ship are all out of ideas, as proven by the underwhelming U12+ and U11+, as well as the empty promise of a blockchain phone (what the heck is that again?).

The U12+ is not a bad phone per se, but it's a little late for average designs like this

If HTC can find a licensee, preferably a new and ambitious company like HMD, willing to try and save its name in the smartphone business, perhaps the Vive VR division can also grow at a steadier pace, proving once and for all virtual reality is not a gimmick. The HMD example feels fitting from another standpoint as well, since the company was founded specifically to carry on Nokia's legacy by a number of Nokia and Microsoft veterans. The venture technically came into existence in December 2016, but it never felt like a hesitant startup. It was more a mini-Nokia, and that's precisely what HTC needs. A new company with big goals, experienced leaders, and a refreshed vision focused on innovation.

Of course, someone like TCL could also help HTC, with more extensive experience in gradually building up brand recognition and a global retail presence. Not to mention more money to invest right off the bat in (smarter) marketing and robust distribution.

Another no-brainer exit from the disastrous situation of the past couple of years would be continuing to live on through Google. It’s unclear if the search giant is interested in acquiring what’s left of HTC, but even if that’s not the case, this fall’s Pixel 3 phones will carry a lot of the Taiwanese company’s DNA. That may not be enough for many hardcore fans, but it's definitely better than nothing. 

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27 Comments

1. D34ever

Posts: 236; Member since: Jul 14, 2018

Nobody wants to pay $800 for a "me, too" phone, especially when there isn't a word "Samsung" stamped on it. HTC should follow the example of OnePlus. Premium phones without premium pricing.

29. Niva.

Posts: 440; Member since: Jan 05, 2015

The only good phones HTC has produced (minus the M7) are their Nexus / Pixel phones. The original Nexus One was a beast for it's time, the Pixels were good too, though you'd be hard pressed to find out any of them were made by HTC. The truth is that HTC has been doing it wrong for a long time. They've made numerous bad decisions time after time, like choices for equipment in their cameras, putting out too many top tier phones, to failing to provide a pure Android experience and timely security updates. I don't care how good Sense is. Their only hope to come back now is to stick to the basics, which is what Nokia is doing. Make good hardware with no gimmicks, jump on the Androidone bandwagon and guarantee updates for years to come, target the low/middle range of the market with only one halo device per year. You say HTC should follow the example of OnePlus, and I think that's completely wrong. I think Oneplus will ultimately fail for the same reason as HTC, they're expanding incredible resources to reinvent and slightly improve the wheel. This is cool at any one specific moment in time, the problem is that the wheel itself is changing at the core and after you're far enough along and the wheel changes, it breaks what you've also changed. This is why, long term, the project will fail. It will fail much quicker once users start catching on how bad using these restrictive variants of Android is for them. Oxygen OS can only continue moving forward as a completely independent project from the rest of Android, but then they're once again re-inventing the wheel and the grindhouse is much more grim. Ideally, the visual changes OnePlus is making to the OS, should be bundled within a stand alone launcher, that's completely separated from the rest of the OS. Then if you want to get it, go get it and let it work on any phone. The moment your forced launcher interferes with the customer's ability to get security updates, you've messed up.

2. Phonehex

Posts: 768; Member since: Feb 16, 2016

HTC coming back ? Where... I don't see HTC's effort in neither their hardware nor their pricing . Marketing.... Never really existed.. So how ?

12. rouyal

Posts: 1583; Member since: Jan 05, 2018

Seems like you skimmed over the title, if that, before going straight to commenting. I might be wrong, but sounds like you assume the article is saying that they are.

3. Humanoid

Posts: 1226; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

Nokia does not make phones. They are HMD/Foxconn. Blackberry is just name/software. Hardware is designed by chinese companies. One of them is TCL. Key2 has codename TCL ATHENA. Evolve X hardware if from OPTIEMUS ELECTRONICS http://phonedb.net/index.php?m=device&id=13801&c=rim_blackberry_evolve_bbg100-1_dual_sim_td-lte_in__rim_ghost

26. Odeira

Posts: 300; Member since: Jun 29, 2012

Except for the fact that HMD is owned and run by people FROM NOKIA before they w----- themselves out to Microsoft. The "real" Nokia was exterminated by Satya Nadela and all that remains of Nokia now is their network hardware and services division. And the Canadian part of Blackberry still has the final word about devices their hardware partners make.

4. lostdaynight

Posts: 31; Member since: May 16, 2011

There's no hope in the premium priced segment for them, but the same could be said of virtually anybody not Huawei, Samsung or Apple. Everyone else who tries to make it there (e.g. LG, Sony, HTC) fails miserably. The best hope is the OnePlus route - selling unlocked phones with hella US LTE bands that are feature packed, yet within the $500-ish price tier. Oh, and killing off Sense once and for all. It hasn't been updated in years, and it's a waste of precious resources to go further. If they want differentiating features, they should do it on the strength of their camera/camera app, electric colors and EdgeSense technology. Pare Sense back to a light, VERY stock-ish experience.

5. Humanoid

Posts: 1226; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

1) No more factories in Taiwan. It is more expensive. Go to somewhere cheaper like China or India. 2) Bring back jack and front speakers 3) Work with major USA carriers 4) let people know about your phones. 5) copy Apple design only if the goal is to increase sales in China. They love anything that looks like iPhone. That is what Huawei, Vivo , Oppo and Xiaomi do. 6) screen with more than 430 nits

6. cncrim

Posts: 1590; Member since: Aug 15, 2011

HTC come back? I don’t think she can, not in android world, HTC dig grave for herself in too deep i dont see it happening.

7. MarvzIsFallen

Posts: 646; Member since: Aug 11, 2017

No hope in premium flagships!!! Apple fpr the win! Samsung galaxy note 9 willfall as hard as galaxy s9 for pricing it too much for android. It’s only a matter of months and they will be bogo deals and 30% off.

14. lyndon420

Posts: 6878; Member since: Jul 11, 2012

There's BOGO deals on iPhones, so what's your argument again??

8. Fire5

Posts: 315; Member since: Feb 13, 2015

The problem with HTC was its stupid and ridiculous battery life, people in general thought that Android had a terrible battery due to HTC's inefficient battery until I believed it, but when I switched to Samsung I realized that the problem was of HTC. Apart from that the super amoled screens fall in love once the tests. Htc has no chance ...

25. SYSTEM_LORD

Posts: 1168; Member since: Oct 05, 2015

No, you just need a better LCD than what HTC is offering. See the likes of Sony.

9. palmguy

Posts: 987; Member since: Mar 22, 2011

HTC? Paaaaaaaaaalm!!!

10. cmdacos

Posts: 4325; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

I suppose they can. It seems the worst of the HTC design team was shipped over to Google based on the purported images we have seen of the Pixel 3XL...

13. rebretz

Posts: 114; Member since: Dec 26, 2011

No, no there is not hope for HTC. Both Blackberry and Nokia had die hard fans from previous OS versions. They were excited to get their favorite manufacture again but on a new OS. HTC has been on Android since the beginning.

18. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3166; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

What beginning would that be? HTC cut its teeth selling millions of Windows Mobile and Palm OS handsets before they ever touched Android. Check your history before turning your keyboard loose.

21. rebretz

Posts: 114; Member since: Dec 26, 2011

HTC has been making Android phones since the beginning of Android. I suppose I needed to add that little nugget for those that couldn't put the entire sentence together as it was.

15. vandroid

Posts: 405; Member since: Sep 04, 2012

Not a chance, BB and Nokia actually learn from their mistakes.

17. Sparkxster

Posts: 1246; Member since: Mar 31, 2017

HTC should make a new modern version of the G1.

27. andynaija

Posts: 1264; Member since: Sep 08, 2012

If they did I will be very interested in getting one, because the G1 was a very intriguing device when it came out.

19. meanestgenius

Posts: 22492; Member since: May 28, 2014

One thing that both Nokia and BlackBerry did was license out their brand name and tech to HMD, TCL, Optiemus and BB Merah Putih, respectively. By doing that it enabled BlackBerry to leave the smartphone hardware business and it enabled Nokia to stay away from the smartphone hardware business. Nokia and BlackBerry branded smartphones are built, designed, marketed, distributed, priced, etc by their respective licensees so the burden of smartphone hardware has been lifted from them. This is a great strategy, as the hardware is the most cost-heavy part of a smartphone. Their respective licensees have also been doing justice by them by saying true to the design language (HMD and TCL), offering things that differentiate them from others (HMD and TCL), pushing their respective smartphones primarily at markets that want their smartphones. HMD has been providing amazing software support via timely security updates and OS updates for their Nokia branded smartphones, and BlackBerry Mobile has been pushing out those ever important monthly security updates and maintaining the very best in security and privacy for their BlackBerry branded smartphones. If HTC can do these things, then they may have a rode to recovery. As it stands, it unfortunately doesn’t look like they are going to make it. One more thing: Nokia itself has been doing well with its businesses like Ozo Audio and their Network equipment, while BlackBerry has been growing profits quarter after quarter with its software and services. HTC needs to diversify beyond smartphone hardware.

23. domfonusr

Posts: 1094; Member since: Jan 17, 2014

My first smartphone was an HTC-made WinMo device, the T-Mobile Dash. I really enjoyed it for the first few months, being able to edit spreadsheets on my phone and get email and other things, as that seemed like a novel experience; however, after having to pull the battery out of the phone in order to stop it from constantly ringing far too many times, I was a little dismayed. I tried a BlackBerry Pearl for a little while, too, but then I found Nokia's Symbian smartphones, and I was hooked for years after that. My HTC Dash only lasted 16 months before it would just do boot loops and never turn on ever again. Tried the master reset several times, eventually it just stopped doing anything, and the battery would only hold a charge for ten minutes anyway, by the end of the month. I was disappointed by HTC, and much preferred Nokia. I just don't know any die-hard HTC fans nowadays, even though I knew a lot of people back between 2005 and 2009 who had HTC devices back then. I got to sell HTC's T-Mobile G1 a few times, too, once T-Mobile's 3G network reached the Harrisburg/Lancaster/York PA area, but I did not stay with the company much longer after that. If HTC can make their Vive VR tech very competitive, and keep that business going, then they stand a chance of staying alive in the event that they license out their brand name to another hardware manufacturer. You are right to mention that Nokia and BlackBerry each have other businesses that they are vested in and doing well in, and so HTC has their place in the VR industry to leverage as their smartphone hardware alternative. As far as licensing out the HTC name to a hardware manufacturer, the common denominator in each of the cases of BlackBerry and Nokia has been to go to cheap Chinese labor. It kind of sucks, but China has a real grip on the labor market because their people are willing to work for so little (seeings the most common local alternative to factory work there is prostitution), so that there really is no other way for companies nowadays to cut down the bottom line on expenses. Some day soon, all of the mobiles will be made in either China or India, because those will be the only parts of the world where cheap labor is so abundant. HMD Global and TCL operate their hardware manufacturing operations in China, and that is their key to turning a profit. It is undoubtedly one of the reasons that the Apple iPhone is a $1000 device instead of a $2000+ device. I also don't see HTC delivering on the software and security updates like HMD Global and BlackBerry have done. It is a shame, but that is kind of their MO. Unless they can turn that around in a few months to a year, I don't see any future for their business, even in the event that they farmed out hardware manufacturing to somebody else in China or India.

24. domfonusr

Posts: 1094; Member since: Jan 17, 2014

Nokia and BlackBerry each have these three pillars to support their current efforts: cheap Chinese labor to manufacture hardware for their licensed brand name, a track record of promised and delivered software and security updates, and alternate business units involved in other industries. If HTC cannot bring together all three of these pillars for themselves, then they likely have no chance.

20. mattkl

Posts: 255; Member since: Feb 01, 2010

Oh man, I loved my G1 and Nexus One. Not the best experience back then but I loved them. Shoot, the Nexus One didn't even have pinch to zoom when I first got it. Makes me wonder why people complain about the price of flagships now. I paid over 550 dollars for that phone the beginning of 2010, 8 years later my Note 8 didn't even cost double that, and it's well more than double the phone in every way, they should cost way more now I think. Glad they don't, but I wouldn't be upset with them if they were.

22. eee777

Posts: 3; Member since: Jul 26, 2018

Re-lunch the XDA series, then make it more innovative, more friendly to rom developers.

28. japkoslav

Posts: 1552; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

There is no hope for HTC.

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