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The HTC One M8 is a great flagship, but it’s not enough to save HTC

HTC's 2014 Flagship Phone
HTC's 2014 Flagship Phone
Juan Carlos Bagnell

A good phone isn’t enough. Customers want a whole ecosystem, and they want to see progress.

I was a big fan of the M7, last year naming it my favorite Android phone of 2013. The M8 is a solid update, improving upon everything I liked about the M7. Better battery life, better aesthetics, a better screen, noticeably better speakers, and some modest improvements to the camera.

The M7 was plagued by manufacturing delays, causing it to limp out into the Android ecosystem. Minus all the leaks and marketing teething pains, the M8 has been a critical success, benefiting from an incredibly aggressive launch, beating rival Samsung into retail channels.

It’s a solid step in the right direction, but it’s not enough by itself…

HTC is finally re-building momentum under their own phone brands. HTC started releasing phones under their own badge during the tail end of the Windows Mobile days, but it’s only been over the last year that HTC hasn’t had to endure oddly named, carrier exclusive handsets. The HTC One X almost locked universal support, but Sprint decided to carry another Evo instead. The M7 was the first true handset to be carried across all carriers without being molested by different names or hardware builds.

Consumers have had FIVE generations of Galaxy phones to get used to Samsung’s line up. They’re only getting their second true “One”. Changing up a company’s image can takeseveral generations before consumers settle into the idea. Customers need to know that they’re buying into solid support and accessories, and that confidence only comes from time in the market. For previous branding shifts, three major updates seems to be the magic number. The M8 continues a tradition of delivering a unique and premier experience, but it'll still need to be reinforced by future handsets. Which brings us to...

The Rest of HTC's Portfolio...

HTC doesn't have any problems launching a solid flagship phone. The rest of the HTC ecosystem is a little lean however. They're absent from the entry level. Last year's HTC One Mini fizzled in the mid-range, as did the HTC One Max for their phablet offering.

Now with its KitKat update, the One Mini has grown into a solid medium screened phone. Unfortunately, it's coming at a time where the mid-range is getting hammered. If given the choice between a new mid-range phone or last year's high end flagship, many consumers will go with the older “nicer” phone. The One Mini just asked too many compromises of consumers at launch, like mediocre camera performance and a sometimes laggy UI.

Similarly, the One Max felt like a conservative device for its super large screen. HTC opted for a slower processor than the Note 3. The camera lost the optical image stabilization from the M7, and although UltraPixels help soak up more light, the OIS helps camera performance more. The One Max essentially had the same shooter as the One Mini. Phablets should be an audacious statement, a tech platform to show off all of a company's most bleeding edge gear, and the larger screen sizes should help provide more room to pack in all of the best goodies available.

Moving into a multi-phone strategy, HTC is in very good shape with their flagships. The M7 and M8 have been critical successes, and we're seeing them build sales momentum in this arena. However they're still almost completely absent from entry, mid-range, and large screen markets. The entry level will be critical as it's where the most exciting growth is happening. The high-end smartphone market is maturing and starting to plateau, so cracking into other customer demographics will be necessary over the next year to continue growth.

More than just a phone company?

We're also hearing rumors of a smartwatch, potentially a partnership with Qualcomm and their Toq platform. As the premier phone market cools, accessories like Smartwatches will be an area with tremendous potential for “value added” purchases. Customers might stretch phone purchases two or three years, but the idea of owning multiple wearable gadgets will become more common. It'll be one of the easier ways to keep customers invested in a brand or platform. With no official news on the horizon, HTC has ceded the excitement to Motorola, Samsung, LG, and Fossil. Waiting for the upcoming Android Wear OS might be prudent as it could mean less R&D and support costs, but HTC PR has to get out ahead of competing watch announcements.

HTC is also absent from tablets, a market they've ignored since their Flyer tablet from three years ago, which was ahead of the curve in offering a stylus. They're unlikely to re-enter this market unless they get a nod from Google to produce a Nexus tablet. Without another company's resources for some mindshare, they'll be starting out from scratch building consumer awareness.

The web is talking about the M8 now, and we all enjoy Gary Oldman “Blah Blah Blahing”, but Galaxy S5 and Gear reviews are hitting the web, the Lumia 930 will be going global soon, and we're not too far away from LG and Nexus rumors occupying the Android blogs. Samsung owns the lion share of Android sales, LG is the fastest growing Android brand, and Motorola found some traction with their entry-level Moto G.

HTC scored a hit with the M8, but it has a lot of work ahead of it to keep the pressure on.

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