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HTC: Out of the shadows

Rory Cellan-Jones | 17:23 UK time, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Five years ago you probably hadn't heard of them - even if you were using one of their phones. Even today, HTC isn't among the better-known names in mobile. But the Taiwanese firm is working hard and spending lots of money to make sure you know its name - and its main weapon is Google Android.

HTC Desire mobile phoneAt the Mobile World Congress on Tuesday, HTC launched two eye-catching phones on the Android platform - the Legend and the Desire. On top of Android, they both feature HTC Sense - the company's own software which blends your contacts book, e-mail and social networking activity into a seamless whole. It's an idea which the company claimed it originated but is now being followed by just about everybody else - just look at the new Windows "People Hub".

While plenty of other manufacturers are now bringing out Android phones, HTC has really set the standard. Of course last month Google unveiled its very own Android phone, the Nexus One. But who made it? HTC of course, and its logo was still visible on the phone, with its CEO on stage at the launch.

How different from just a few years ago, when the Taiwanese firm made "white label" phones for operators (remember 02's XDA?). Then in 2007 it started coming out of the shadows with the touchscreen HTC Touch, an early iPhone challenger.

It has long been associated with Windows mobile phones and indeed launched a new model here - though for Windows Mobile 6.5 rather than the new Windows Phone Series 7 operating system.

But you get the feeling that Android is where its heart is and where its most advanced design effort is now being concentrated. HTC tells me its staff spent months at Google's Mountain View headquarters helping in the run-up to the operating system's launch in 2008, calling home to tell colleagues just how good all the free food was.

So are Google and HTC in perfect harmony? Not quite. HTC seemed eager to stress in Barcelona that its new Androids will have even more to offer consumers and perhaps be cheaper and more widely available than Google's Nexus One.

"If you buy the Nexus One we are happy, if you buy the HTC Desire we are happy," is how one HTC executive put it to me before the show - but only after singing the praises of the Desire and telling me it offered everything that the Nexus One had, and more.

Maybe Google won't mind too much - after all the success of the Android platform is more important to the search giant than just the sales of its own-brand phone. But HTC, having finally emerged from the shadows, is determined to make sure its brand isn't obscured by Google's.

The company executive I met showed me an internal video, aimed at motivating staff. It was full of stirring images of figures like Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa, with the slogan "Quietly brilliant" repeated time and again.

But HTC seems determined that its days as the quiet one of the mobile market are over.


  • Comment number 1.

    No Rory Androids isnt at its core, again lack of research and anti-MS bias..

    The HD2 was developed with Microsoft so that it could have a capacitive screen. HTC and MS are closer than HTC and Google.

  • Comment number 2.

    I had a chance to fiddle with this phone, let just say through some google friends doing android dev and the speed was disappointing. It was especially noticeable when playing games because the delay was so bad it made it impossible to effectively play them which made me wonder about the difference between the android community and iphone. I think for the most part iPhone apps are designed to be optimized for one phone as opposed to the Android much like Windows Mobile, the apps are being developed for many phones yet at the same time they are not very sensitive of the fact that each phone is different. They cant expect the app to demand the same amount of memory resources from any phone or expect the same touch/multi-touch accuracy or sensitivity. More often now we are seeing that android apps are too demanding rather than meeting the standards of the lowest common denominator, yet that too is a double edge sword since it would also lower their development creativity to have to water down their app in such a way.

    Here's a list of a few goods and bads so far for the HTC Desire, feel free too add your own opinons to the list:

  • Comment number 3.

    Ah yes the Windows Mobile Power User website is definitely not biased.

    HTC have a long history with Microsoft and their early success went hand in hand with their Windows Mobile offerings. Now most of their products are coming along with Android so they are obviously shifting, and have been for some time.

  • Comment number 4.

    Luke ORafferty.. Of course they are biased, but they report what others dont or more likely, wont.

    If HTC are so pro Android why do its Microsoft devices get the best first? The best screens, the fastest CPUs, the best design? Where Rory gets all this i really dont know. The Android fans have been crying out for an HD2 with Android, but HTC arent giving it to them. Winmo is the priority. Winmo devices are the flagships, not Android, this will be the way for the foreseeable future. The Androids fill the mid and low end. The only high end Android being the Bravo, which is still no HD2.

    You think HTC is giving up on Winmo? Think again, its far from the truth. WP7 unifys the brand and puts restrictions on the hardware that can be used for good reasons, meaning less devices are necessary. There will be less WP7 devices, but this is a good thing.

  • Comment number 5.

    ChrisM, is seemingly some what blinkered and bias to MS himself.
    Yes, Microsoft at that time probably was HTC's strongest partner, and there was probably no one more committed to WinMo than HTC but at no point does that suggest that HTC's partnership with Microsoft was their main priority. Sure they worked together to get capacitive screens into the HD2, but that doesn't mean anything. Google's Nexus One has a capacitive screen in it too. All that meant was HTC and Microsoft had to work together to get a feature that they both wanted working. HTC's work goes back to MS, and out to all other other vendors who support WinMo and WinPhone7.

    HTC's business is to get the best for HTC, and with all their work on the HTC Sense UI now being obsoleted by Windows Phone 7 Series, and with their strongest critical and commercial success coming with their Android devices, its pretty obvious that HTC are moving down the route of Android as the main-stay of their devices. HTC built the G1, they built the Nexus One. They are Google's primary handset partner, and to suggest that Android isn't at the centre of HTC's thinking, moreso than WinMo 6.5 or WinPhone7 is very short sighted and glib ChrisM.

    It'll be interesting to see what they do with Windows Phone 7, if anything, now that their newly announced WinMo 6.5 device is dead on arrival.

  • Comment number 6.

    HTC's Sense Ui Is not always an advantage though. Many android users disable it.
    It can cause a performance hit, (probably not so noticeable with a 1ghz Snapdragon processor) but slows down the Hero.

    Also it means when a new version of android is released, you have to wait for HTC to modify it and add Sense. This can takes ages in my experience. (Hero is still waiting)

    If you want to get the updates first you really need a full google experience version of android as on the Nexus One.

  • Comment number 7.

    HTC is being very cautious not to get too close to either Microsoft or Google. Rory and the previous commenters forget the origins of HTC - it was Microsoft's cheap replacement for Sendo. Sendo went into administration after a long decline as a result of it having too deep a relationship with Microsoft which Microsoft decided to end for its own reasons, and the people at HTC are well aware of this. Since HTC launched its own brand in 2006, it has made clear, large efforts both to use as many operating systems as possible (first Windows Mobile, then Android and now Brew too) and to make the experience of its phones platform-agnostic (first TouchFLO, which evolved into TouchFLO 3D and, eventually, HTC Sense). Therefore, as they've demonstrated by announcing the Desire - a slightly better Nexus One - that neither Microsoft nor Google can shut them down (although, interestingly, they are a bit over-reliant on Qualcomm at the moment).

    Anyway, nice post Rory. Quietly Brilliant is possibly the most appropriate slogan I've ever heard because they've happily let networks hide their branding for so many years...

  • Comment number 8.

    @ratkat, yes, it does slow down the experience some what, but regardless of that HTC developed it, and seem to want to use and support it. Not being able to do that on Windows Phone 7 must be a factor in their future development plans.

    Regardless of this HTC will play an even field for a little while yet. Android is very important for them, and to conclude that it isn't going to be, and Windows will always be their priority like some commenters is a little bit short sighted.

  • Comment number 9.

    Realistically are HTC significant? Are they any different to Foxconn (makers of arguably the most successful smartphone - iPhone)? Is exposing the brand really of value? The bottom line is ultimately the underlying OS/Integrated Service/Appstore will succeed and anything else is short term landfill. I don't think the winner is RIM or WinMo and ultimately Nokia or Symbian will together or separately bury Android (Maemo/MeeGo for Nokia/Intel) to compete with Apple. In the end people will not tolerate cheap quality low battery life brick phones (Android) when nicely finished devices like iPhone/E72 exist. OK Nokia aren't there yet but YouTube the videos of Symbian3 which is realistic on Nokia soon, and we all know N900 is just a geek trial for the future of the Maemo platform. Samsung and SonyEricsson aren't members of the Symbian Foundation for nothing and are just waiting for the refreshed open midrange platform. Android is a distraction which is unloved by mass users and the true open platforms based on on Linux (Maemo/Meego) and Symbian are the future competition of Apple

  • Comment number 10.

    @Chris (#9) AFAIK, Foxconn have only ever been told what to do by Apple - the iPhones are an Apple design, with specific hardware components in mind and Foxconn simply does the dirty work of sticking it all together (with some sort of feedback, presumably, but ultimately no influence on the design). Meanwhile, HTC designs its own phones (yes, including the Google Nexus One, Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1, the O2 XDAs, T-Mobile MDAs (and G1/G2 Touch), Orange SPVs and Vodafone VPAs) - sometimes with input from other companies (such as Google with the G1, apparently, which may be why it's not very inspiring), but more often than not without. HTC, unlike Foxconn, does not just make these phones - it designs them (for example, it even acquired a world-leading design company a while back). Exposing the brand is of value to HTC because it means they can sell more phones without any extra innovation and make clear the advantages that their phones bring - they're as much a mobile phone maker as any other large mobile phone company and, as both manufacturer and designer of their devices, moreso than Apple.

    Your summary of Android-based phones as "cheap quality low battery life brick phones" reveals where your heart is in this situation. I've never owned and do not plan to own an Android phone, or an iPhone or a phone by Nokia, so I'm relatively neutral - I think the mobile operating systems are (both surprisingly and unsurprisingly) very similar in capability, and the hardware matters far more than the OS. Also, you must recognise that how well a device is finished is opinion - not fact. For example, I have heard many people say that the HTC HD2 makes the iPhones look "cheap" and "chubby". It's also worth noting that HTC has actually been shoving relatively large batteries into its Android phones so far, which gives them better battery life than all other smartphones when compared fairly.

  • Comment number 11.

    peejkerton. 'It'll be interesting to see what they do with Windows Phone 7, if anything, now that their newly announced WinMo 6.5 device is dead on arrival.'

    Really? Is that what you think? Funny that there are 30 Winmo 6.5 phones coming out this year that we know of, many of which are HTC devices. 6.5 is far from dead. Its going to be free when WP7 is out.

    You think they wont do WP7? LOL boy are you in for a shock.. You do know that WP7 and HTC are rather, lets say, 'closely linked' dont you?

    I have never said that Android isnt important to HTC, but Winmo is still core to them. HTC and MS are very closely linked. There is a lot of HTC in WP7 and there will be a lot of WP7 in HTC..

    Rorys 'feeling' that Android is at the heart of HTC is just that a 'feeling' and a rather misplaced one at that.

  • Comment number 12.

    HTC and Windows Mobile have a very long history. The very first Windows Mobile device was the Orange SPV built by HTC and released in Nov 2002. When support was handled by Microsofties posting on usenet, none of this fancy forum and blog stuff:)

  • Comment number 13.

    I doubt very much there is someone at HTC determining which OS is better. If, as readers of the blog suggest, Microsoft gets first pick of new hardware then that is most likely because they are generating more sales at present. Once that changes, and in my opinion it will, then Android devices will be pushed to the top of the queue. HTC is after all a business and not a fan club.

    Android will likely win out in the long term over both MS and Apple due to it being a more open platform, yes it will suffer from hacks and slowness and bugs but they will be all be fixed I am sure. With Android you can choose many things, where you purchase your music for instance, that in itself will be a big draw. A more open application acceptance procedure than Apple.

    I do not own an Android device currently, but I see that changing as the platform matures and gains ground, which one must assume a more open and possibly friendly platform will.

  • Comment number 14.

    @ 13 - I see where your coming from with the 'open means better' - even though this statement is a bit short sighted. But - what about Symbian and WM6.x? what does Andriod offer that these dont?

    Anyway, im not sure. Im due for an upgrade next month, and now im starting to wish i wasnt - looks like the wrong time to sign a contract!

  • Comment number 15.

    @11 - ChrisM you keep stating that when WM7 comes out that WM6.5 will be "free". Microsoft have never given away any "old" operating system - they were, until recently still milking money out of XP on netbooks. So why should they do anything different with WM6.5?

    If WM7 is the Android/iPhone killer that you seem to be claiming (or rather evangelising) then why on earth would anyone want to develop for WM6.5 given the different UIs and SDKs?

  • Comment number 16.

    'On top of Android, they both feature HTC Sense - the company's own software which blends your contacts book, e-mail and social networking activity into a seamless whole. It's an idea which the company claimed it originated but is now being followed by just about everybody else.'

    I feel they can claim to possibly be the first to get it to market, but over ten years ago the Symbian Quartz proposal for the Sony Ericsson P800/900 included just such a feature. Sony must be kicking themselves as their product was streets ahead of anything then, never mind now. Plus written text input also better than anything available now, if only they had developed it over the last decade... ho hum.

  • Comment number 17.

    I've used 2 version of Android to date (the G1 and the more updated Hero) and currently have an old Omnia. Still not sold on Android just yet - seen the probs my brother has with the Hero and the misses with the G1 in some ways it reminds me of some of the problems i've had with the Omnia. Ultimately i do prefer the total 'tweek everything' nature you get with WinMo 6.* compared to Android. It'll be interesting to see how MS play out keeping 6.5 and 7 running next to each other if thats the case.

    What's really grabbed my attention though, even more so than the HD2, is the First Else running a Linux based platform. The OS is very differnt to anything i've seen so far. I've been able to upgrade for months now but been holding off for that 'something special' i'm hoping the First Else is that something and Orange pick it up.

  • Comment number 18.

    Steve. Its not announced yet, but a version of Winmo 6 will be free to developing markets. Wait and see..

    The idea is to compete with android and Symbian, especially in China where Winmo has major advantages over both. China alone could be huge for a free Winmo with its handwriting recognition ans resistive screens. There are a LOT of winmo devices planned by Chinese companies.

    For what its worth, i like WP7, but my next device will probably be an Android, WP7 is great, but not what im after. Winmo 6.5 is, but android will be the best alternative if new 6.5 devices arent sold here.

  • Comment number 19.

    @Chris no blogs or forums for support in 2002? That is surely a worry that the 'microsofties' were taking so long to adopt standard web practises from at least 2 years earlier when I started my, now obligatory, teenage bloggary. ;)

  • Comment number 20.

    After the disaster that was the HTC Touch Diamond, I don't think I'll go back to a HTC Phone. Now using the N900 and it's an absolute dream, both in hardware and software.

  • Comment number 21.

    ChrisM. You need to find a new hobby. you're really not going to change the world (nor, even, preserve a world, that you don't want to change) by camping the comments section of a BBC blog. People are inclined to raise their "crank filters" at the sight of the third or fourth comment from any single individual.

    To address the article itself, I think HTC are making a bold move, in trying to become a recognised and trusted brand in their own right. I also think Android is the natural platform for them to do this, as it aassociates them with a recognised class of product, while in no way tying them into any direct obligations with its supplier.

    As for the Googlephone, I believe it was really an attempt to define a new set of standards, to which all other Android phones had to aspire, or exceed, rather than an outright attempt to become the default Android handset. There was a point, last year, when it was looking like all new smartphones built on the Android architecture, were going to ship with a feature-set that lagged a year or eighteen months behind what was possible with the operating system.

    However, the sight of a flourishing HTC, that sells successful, up-to-the-minute, Android handsets, under their own brandname, will act as a message to the other handset makers, that working closely with Moutain View can lead to great benefits, that will not require the products that coime out the other end, to be Google-branded. In fact, if consumers begin seeking out HTC handsets, because they are HTCs, then other manufacturers may find themselves wishing it was they, who had inked that deal, with Google.

    There are currently quite a few companies in East Asia (Flextronics and Quanta Computer spring to mind) whose work lies behind some of the best known and most iconic products, on the modern market, but who get no recognition for their work. Consequently, they often exist just one bidding-war away, from losing those contracts to someone else. That's the nature of globalisation, of course. But while consumers actively participate in not understanding how their products are made - or by whom - then their products will always be made by the lowest bidder: oligoploies can be as damaging as monopolies, in this regard.

    By leading her company away from being just another bidder in the oligopoly market, Cher Wang may be able to turn HTC into a 'Sony'. It's a rare thing, to be able to buy an electronics product, these days, and know that the name on the front had anything to do with what's inside.

  • Comment number 22.

    My HTC is great and has been doing a bang up job since taking over from the awful Samsung I had so good to see them being mentioned.

    I'm somewhat unimpressed by the BBCs coverage of Windows 7 Mobile. Most sites I have visited have ran some great articles with an in-depth look at what it will do to the industry.

    Ultimately to me competition is a good thing. It reduces prices and prevents one company from cornering a market then destroying it by being lazy. Competition leads to so many innovations its worth it.

    Come on BBC you ran 4 gazillion articles about the iPad and iPhone get your act together and report on things from behind the rose tinted glases.

    Or do I have to ask again is the BBC now part of Apple? Are we actually just pumping our licence fees into Stevey J's back pocket without all getting iPhones or iPads for our cash... I have never seen such a partial blog, in general, in my life.

    And as for all the petty arguements about Apple being better than MS and Android etc... Come on. It's the greatest trick these guys ever pulled pretending they care to get you all to care. Use what suits you whatever OS or phone that is and enjoy.

  • Comment number 23.

    I think most of you are talking about personal preferences. I have been using an Android phone for a few months now, and I'm extremely happy with it.

    The subject is HTC, and not Apple/iPhone. I actually had one of the earlier "white label" WinMo devices and it wasn't very good. The technology has come a long way since then and HTC mobile devices are certainly one of the best.

  • Comment number 24.

    Sadly not so innovative, no dual 3G SIM card for business and personal, no dual memory card slots for GPS/APPS/Mem extension or for picture storage.

    Equally, the APPs store and ability to access them is weak incomparison to iPhone.

    It is about features that support people and their lives and the APPs that make their mobile lives easier. Apple gets the bit about the apps but no one gets the functionality bit. Does anyone really want to carry a GPS, Camera, Work phone, personal phone, watch, and diary? No we need it all in one place and synced together. Come on Apple, HTC and the rest of you start delivering.

  • Comment number 25.

    If HTC wish to be considered a high standard provider they need to focus less on getting new phones on to the market and a little more on providing support and updates for their existing customers. If they don't they'd be better going back to hiding behind the operators.

  • Comment number 26.

    To be fair, this is a fairly balanced article. Yes, HTC are still committed to Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7 Series. I asked HTC directly how they felt about the inability to flex their "HTC Sense" muscle on the new Windows Phone 7 Series and they stated that there's still room for making the handset "individual". Personally, reading between the lines I can't see that it'll be on the same scale as Sense, but HTC won the award for best Smartphone at MWC and rightly so but..

    They won it with the HTC Hero - a handset that lifted Android completely off the page. I had a hands on with the HTC Legend ( and it's simply a stunning handset. The build quality and monobody is stunning, simply stunning. It's another Android device and it'll sell very very well indeed.

    Don't forget that HTC do roll support and updates regularly, however they do have "customised" network variants. Updates for these are made ready by HTC but have to be approved and rolled out by the networks - they're usually the stumbling block, not HTC. Don't forget that the all-new HTC Sense on the Desire and Legend will be coming to the Hero too.

    I don't think HTC or any other manufacturer will ever make a handset that'll please everyone, and I'm a little concerned with Windows Mobile this year - all of the new Windows Mobile 6.5.xx handsets at Mobile World Congress won't be upgradeable to Windows Phone 7 Series. None of the software you have on your Windows Mobile 6.5.xx phone will work on the new Windows Phone 7 Series either, so it'll add an element of doubt into buyers minds.

    Any questions, give me a shout.

  • Comment number 27.

    Nexus One > Desire


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