Why did HTC smartphones go from popular to obscure?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.

Another day, another analysis of a smartphone company that has lost its standings. We started off with something light. After all, LG is still kicking. If you don't know what we're talking about, check our post about LG's adventures on the mobile market. Тhe situation of thе company we'll be talking about here, however, is dire, to say the least. 

HTC: a pale shadow of its former self


HTC is a name we hear less and less often. It won’t surprise us if some of our younger readers haven’t even seen an HTC smartphone in the flesh. It’s hard to believe then that back in 2011, HTC was the third biggest phone manufacturer by global market share, only behind Samsung and Apple. Around the same time, the company was top dog in the States, holding 24% of the market. HTC's phones were the go-to Android devices and offered an extremely good price-to-performance ratio. 

Sadly, it was all downhill from there. Compared to HTC, LG is a straight-up successful enterprise. HTC’s decline was so drastic, the company’s market share is now measured with a "0." in front of the number. So, what caused that dreadful collapse? In short, competition, but not without some “help” from HTC itself.

In 2012, HTC's CEO said the company won't be making budget phones to preserve its image as a high-quality brand, opting out of high sales numbers. In reality, it probably wouldn't have achieved high sales even if it tried, as Chinese manufacturers were already taking over the segment. Around the same time, HTC's executive tied the company to another sinking ship, saying that "HTC is committed to Windows Phone more than ever".


In 2013, HTC released the flagship HTC One, which became its best-selling phone ever, raising hopes that the company is back on the right track after a couple of years in decline. Despite that record, the sales numbers were far from those of Samsung and Apple. The Galaxy S4 was the main competitor of the HTC One and sold roughly 7 times more units even though HTC’s phone was a fair match specs-wise. The company's apparent focus on the high end wasn't panning out as its executives imagined.

Sadly, HTC’s next contender, the One (M8), performed worse on the market than its predecessor (the whole M7, M8 naming scheme probably didn't help either). One of the main weaknesses of the M8 and other HTC flagships around that time was the camera, performing noticeably worse than those of the competitors.  

By that time, HTC’s executives had changed their tune again, saying that the company wasn’t aiming for high sales numbers and beating Samsung and Apple in the high-end segment. Instead, they wanted to deliver good phones to a strong community. You're probably noticing a pattern here. Turns out HTC’s fanbase wasn’t that strong. The HTC One (M9) (Again with the weird name...) bombed spectacularly, cutting HTC’s market evaluation in half in the process.


HTC had more than Samsung to worry about, however. Chinese manufacturers such as Huawei and Xiaomi were gaining speed fast, gradually moving towards high-end devices and taking large chunks of market shares from the weaker competitors on the way. HTC, being weakened by the poor results over the last few years, was the easiest prey, and there was no mercy.

The quality phones no one cares about


HTC valiantly continued to release new flagships, its latest U12+ being a very decent smartphone. However, people just don’t seem to care about what HTC is doing anymore, and the company’s releases get a minimum amount of attention from the media and consumers alike. This points toward another problem with HTC: the poor management and marketing. If the company is making a good product, it’s up to the marketing team to make it known and convince people it’s worth buying, even more so when attention is fleeing away. 

HTC couldn't afford to spend on wide-reaching marketing campaigns as those Samsung is usually betting on. As a result, HTC's flagships often remained outside people's attention and consequently out of their pockets as well. And the way the marketing team used the resources it had at its disposal wasn't the most impactful either.

Let's go back to 2013 again, when HTC made a desperate attempt to appear cool by hiring Robert Downey Jr. who was riding his Iron Man fame at the time. The company paid him $12 million for the promotional campaign, and one of the ads he shot was this:


And while the sum paid to the actor might sound like a lot, it was just a small part of the $1 billion HTC spent on this campaign alone. No matter the financial situation the company was in, a billion dollars is an enormous amount of money, especially for marketing. Despite "Change" being the motto of the campaign, it didn't really change HTC's fortunes. It focused mainly on the brand's name and its newly found quirkiness, trying to create the sensation of it being "fresh" and "different". Ultimately, there was just too much randomness and too little sense in the ads, with the company's phones barely making an appearance. The campaign caused more ridicule than admiration and failed to make a meaningful impact on the company's image. And to highlight what HTC was up against, during the same year, Samsung spent $10 billion to market its smartphones, by far the most out of all smartphone makers.

Also, HTC executives have often been too optimistic about the future. One of them stated in 2013 that “the worst has probably passed” (probably excited by Downey Jr.'s awesome ads) and another just recently said that the company will gain market share and turn a profit in 2019.

Proof that there was still some value in HTC came in 2017 when Google spent $1.1 billion to acquire part of the company’s research and development department (around 2,000 in total) for its own line of smartphones. HTC’s mobile division saw several reductions in staff over the years, making the executive’s claims of successful 2019 dubious at best.

Probably the most telling sign of how big of a fall HTC experienced is the change in its stock price. Topping at $42 per share in 2011, right now shares go for under $1.30, or about 4% of its former value.

A beacon of light for HTC is its virtual reality headset, the Vive, which has established itself as one of the go-to VR devices. HTC spun off the Vive into a separate company in 2016, likely so it can be pushed away from the sinking ship that is HTC’s mobile division. With that said, 2019 might be the last in which a new HTC sees the light of day.

Be on the lookout for the next article of this mini-series, where we'll be examining Sony's lackluster performance on the smartphone market.

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50 Comments

1. bucknassty

Posts: 1337; Member since: Mar 24, 2017

their marketing went stupid... point blank... quietly brilliant was a force to be reckoned with... they started putting celebrities in commercials and had nothing to promote what the phone could do.

12. cncrim

Posts: 1588; Member since: Aug 15, 2011

They went from listen to customers and give to what they wanted to I will give you what i think it is good, and put Farrier price on Honda civic. Does it sound like familiar? Yes, Apple act like that last few years..... and why Is Apple donnot get same faith? Because there is 1 OS but 2018 start to turn for them too. That’s all said, with that much cash Apple will not go anywhere for a long time.

35. sgtdisturbed47

Posts: 966; Member since: Feb 02, 2012

It's not rocket surgery to do ads that show what the product can do. Apple can at least market their product, while HTC relied heavily on sales-side marketing instead of ads.

49. KyleRiemen

Posts: 170; Member since: Oct 29, 2014

Exactly. From top spec'ed, has it all, no compromises phone to let's remove the microSD slot and put in a non removeable battery and huge Bezels. So people sticked with other phones.

3. pimpin83z

Posts: 541; Member since: Feb 08, 2019

After 2014 HTC phones have just been meh. Nothing that really caught the consumers attention. Samsung's cameras were the top camera on android devices until 2016* & it seems like they put all their better hardware in the Pixel. They need to do something revolutionary or game changing to regain their relevancy. *the Note 7's camera was amazing & even better than the Pixel but, you know...

22. Cat97

Posts: 1890; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

The reason is simple: they ignored true customer needs: large battery, high screen to body ratio, good camera.

5. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3137; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

I would venture to say that there would be no XDA without HTC. They were the preeminent ODM of the WinMo and early Android days. The mere mention of the HD2 brings back fond memories of HSPL, Bootloaders and ROMs.

6. LiveFaith

Posts: 464; Member since: Jul 04, 2015

Gahhh. The HD2 was one sick device in it's day. Unfortunately HTC did not continue to make cutting edge products like that and just became part of the noise.

16. bucknassty

Posts: 1337; Member since: Mar 24, 2017

and the EVO! i still got on in my drawer... still runs smooth, put so many ROMs on that thing still has a feature that no phone has yet to implement and thats changing music tracks while screen is off with volume controls

43. perry1234

Posts: 645; Member since: Aug 14, 2012

Simply making an open device with top-end specs and open bootloader+drivers+other stuff needed by modders would bring HTC back into the limelight. There are enough of us tech-heads, I think, who can do a lot with a smartphone that is completely unlocked and moddable like the HD2. Almost all of us would buy such a phone instantly. A phone that is insanely moddable + updated with 2019 specs...

7. maherk

Posts: 6873; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

Arrogance and being stubborn to their own ideas.

13. kiko007

Posts: 7493; Member since: Feb 17, 2016

I don’t think arrogance played much of a role here. Even in HTC’s hay-day, they’ve never genuinely been seen as top dog. They’ve also never been a brand to stick to their guns on any one feature past a few iterations. HTC’s problem has always been trying (and failing) to follow the crowd. That’s more meek than arrogant if anything. They could’ve stuck to metal chassis, stereo front facing speakers, and excellent audio quality... but they didn’t. Instead they put themselves in a box they almost certainly would never get out of alive. It’s also important to remember that while much of HTC’s fall from grace is their own fault, part of it is just the landscape of mobile changing. Most people have a set brand they like and aren’t as willing to take chances on other offerings. The market has matured to the point switching devices more than once every few cycles is a waste of money. For companies like HTC, mature markets are a death sentence. There’s literally nothing they can do to recover lost glory now.

18. maherk

Posts: 6873; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

When people complained about HTC's awful "ultrapixel" technology and that stupid huge black bar on their phones, HTC stuck to these for 3 straight iterations, they didn't want to admit they did something wrong. They were leading the android market alongside Samsung with their superb One X, then they dropped the M7 and people fell in love with it, but it had it's shortcomings and people expected HTC to build on it, and fix the stuff their loyal fanbase complained about. That's when HTC started losing it's ground in the Android market. They and Sony, and by refusing to adapt and listen to their costumers back then, lost the vast majority of their fanbase.

21. Be_Mine

Posts: 256; Member since: Dec 29, 2013

I agree. Had the HTC One M7. While I loved the design, UI and software. Almost every picture taken with the Ultra Pixel camera produced pictures smeared with purple tinted colours all around the corners. And they decide to stick with the same Ultra Pixel camera in the next few iterations.

8. toukale

Posts: 631; Member since: Jun 10, 2015

Sites/forums have been writing about this at least once a year since 2015. It's not magic to see what is going on with the likes of HTC. HTC and others like it did well in a growing market, now that the market have matured they are getting squeezed by those on the high end (Samsung, Huawei ect) and (Huawei, Xiaomi etc.) on the low end. HTC can no longer compete effectively in this new market.

9. toukale

Posts: 631; Member since: Jun 10, 2015

Sites/forums have been writing about this at least once a year since 2015. It's not magic to see what is going on with the likes of HTC. HTC and others like it did well in a growing market, now that the market have matured they are getting squeezed by those on the high end (Samsung, Huawei ect) and (Huawei, Xiaomi etc.) on the low end. HTC can no longer compete effectively in this new market.

10. mahima

Posts: 729; Member since: Nov 20, 2014

When android manufacturer wants to be apple...removing headphone jack, low specs, high price, And okay camera only at flagship device

11. Mrmark

Posts: 396; Member since: Jan 26, 2013

HTC was first to market on a lot of innovation during its downfall but people weren't buying them . I ultimately blame lack of spending in advertisement in the US market and second to blame is tech websites like phonearena bashing them because they want to justify why it's not selling and say the phone sucks and it's not until a year later they say "One of the best Underrated phones no one bought " in the headlines.

17. MrMalignance

Posts: 296; Member since: Feb 17, 2013

Yes, this completely

14. Sammy_DEVIL737

Posts: 1529; Member since: Nov 28, 2016

1. No marketing stratergy. 2. Acting as if we know everything and wouldn’t listen to customers feedback. 3. Removing the essential things from successor model (ex. dual speakers) 4. Not adapting to change. 5. Ridiculous pricing.

23. AmashAziz

Posts: 2921; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

6: Too many geniuses in the company!

42. Sammy_DEVIL737

Posts: 1529; Member since: Nov 28, 2016

Yup bro.

15. mrochester

Posts: 997; Member since: Aug 17, 2014

Lack of product differentiation. Using Android just like every other manufacturer other than Apple is what has killed HTC off. Customers aren't loyal to your brand when they can simply buy the same experience elsewhere for a fraction of the price. HTC desperately needs its own operating system and ecosystem so that it can attract and keep customers. Follow Apple's lead.

19. midan

Posts: 2859; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

This, so in reality, just like LG, Sony or HTC they really can't do anything about this, just a wait their slowly death.

33. rouyal

Posts: 1582; Member since: Jan 05, 2018

“Customers aren't loyal to your brand when they can simply buy the same experience elsewhere for a fraction of the price.” I came to say this. Because the android marketplace is dog-eat-dog, it’s a race to the bottom in regards who can make the best phone for the price, which cuts into profit and loyalty making android oems especially susceptible to being taken out.

20. shiv179

Posts: 164; Member since: Aug 08, 2012

I miss my HTC One M7 (2013). That was the best phone I ever had.

24. vinnieti

Posts: 6; Member since: Feb 14, 2019

The issue with HTC in 2011-2013 was their camera quality lagged behind Samsung and Apple in a big way. The marketing campaigns by HTC were also very bad; meanwhile Samsung and Apple did a much better job of marketing their phones. By the time HTC caught up in camera quality it was too late. HTC has very little carrier support; which is the kiss of death in western countries.

25. vinnieti

Posts: 6; Member since: Feb 14, 2019

The issue with HTC in 2011-2013 was their camera quality lagged behind Samsung and Apple in a big way. The marketing campaigns by HTC were also very bad; meanwhile Samsung and Apple did a much better job of marketing their phones. By the time HTC caught up in camera quality it was too late. HTC has very little carrier support; which is the kiss of death in western countries.

26. mariosraptor

Posts: 178; Member since: Mar 15, 2012

Because they stopped any tampering.

27. EclipseGSX

Posts: 1775; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

Because they released a new model every 8-10 months with horrible marketing. They aren't Samsung or Apple who can keep churning out the same phone with a 10% spec bump each year.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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