New HTC One (M8) Is a Make-Or-Break Product for the Company
This afternoon, I attended the unveiling of the HTC One (M8), the Taiwanese company's new flagship Android smartphone.
The device ticks all the necessary boxes for a high-end smartphone in 2014: five-inch screen, 2GB of RAM, huge battery, quad-core processor and LTE support. It also offers a few extras: a clever camera that HTC terms Ultrapixel Duo, 50GB of Google Drive storage, a special power-saving mode, and a plethora of features with intercapped names such as BoomSound and BlinkFeed.
I've had a chance to use the device, and the first thing that struck me was the metal casing and design. There's no doubt the HTC One (M8) is a beautiful object; it's certainly on my shortlist of this year's most attractive devices. HTC will be hoping that potential buyers will be won over the moment they pick one up.
Of course, the same could be said for the phone's predecessor. The HTC One won plaudits for its appearance and many of its ground-breaking features. But delays in production meant that HTC was unable to get them into shops — and into people's hands — fast enough. Samsung's Galaxy S4 had a far bigger marketing budget and was readily available. It outshone the HTC One, regardless of its technical merit.
Early signs suggest HTC has learned from these tough lessons, particularly in terms of device availability and supply chain capacity. In stark contrast to last year, the HTC One (M8) will be on sale in some retail outlets in the UK on its day of launch and will be more widely available on 4 April. HTC has signed up more than 230 operators worldwide. This means its 2014 flagship will ship slightly ahead of Samsung's Galaxy S5 and Sony's Xperia Z2, which are scheduled for 11 April.
Although HTC won't be able to get close to Samsung's colossal advertising budget and will be unlikely to match Sony's, its marketing campaign for the HTC One (M8) is significantly more focused than last year's launch. There's a strong emphasis on the design of the device, its Duo camera and other headline features. It's also working hard with retailers and distributors, investing heavily in providing working demonstration phones and training.
HTC still has a mountain to climb as it tries to recover its position in the smartphone market, but early indications are positive. The HTC One (M8) has strong channel support, although this does not automatically translate into sales. It must capitalise on the distinctive design and premium materials used on the device, especially in comparison with those of its rivals. A major goal will be to capture consumers upgrading from Samsung's Galaxy S III. Luring only a small proportion of these customers to an HTC device would be a step in the right direction. HTC will be hoping the positive sentiment toward the new phone's predecessor will act as a "halo" when buyers evaluate the HTC One (M8).
In addition, HTC's in a stronger position than in the same period in 2013. Although the HTC One was an exceptional flagship product, HTC lacked a mid-tier portfolio that could address a broader market and benefit from the halo effect. By contrast, the new flagship will be supported by the Desire 310, Desire 501, Desire 610 and Desire 816, among others. Making the most of the new flagship across the wider portfolio will be critical for HTC as it seeks to rebuild some much-needed scale.