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Dear HTC, stop being so quietly brilliant

Exodus Phone HTC 3

HTC has been quietly setting trends in the smartphone industry for years - too quietly, in my opinion. They not only manufactured the first Android smartphone ever - the HTC Dream (also known as T-Mobile G1 in some regions), but were innovation leaders for many years. Now on the brink of bankruptcy, they have released the HTC Exodus - a smartphone targeting cryptocurrency enthusiasts, which seems like a desperate gimmick that's late to the party.

This year has been tough for the Taiwanese manufacturer - and that's saying something, considering they've been hanging by a thread for a while. HTC laid off around 1500 employees and profits are down 80% in 2018. The company also no longer makes Google's Pixels - the Pixel 3 and 3XL are manufactured directly by Foxconn.

So, what lies at the core of HTC's fall from grace? Poorly executed ideas? Low quality hardware? As a long-time fan, I'd say the main thing hindering the company's success is lack of confidence in their own products and innovations.

htc one m8 colors
The HTC One M8 - one of the company's most successful and popular devices. / © HTC

The early days: quiet brilliance

I may be biased here, since the HTC Desire HD was my first actual smartphone and I feel a bit of nostalgia for it, but in 2010 it was one of the best devices on the market. For example, competitors like Samsung were still using plastic at the time, while the HTC Desire HD has an aluminium body, giving the phone a more premium look and feel. It also made the device very durable. Yet, that was just one among its many selling points - it had great sound powered by Dolby Audio and surround sound, a good 8MP camera and almost no preinstalled bloatware.

The Desire HD also had a bigger and higher resolution screen even compared to the current iPhone - at a time when Android smartphones were still getting their foot through the door and were not as polished. It was a solid all-arounder that impressed both critics and consumers. No wonder in the UK carriers struggled to meet the demand for the HTC phone. The US variants - Inspire 4G and Thunderbolt, were also among the first smartphones to support 4G and LTE.

The advertising for the device was minimalist and straight-forward, in keeping with the company's 'quietly brilliant' slogan.

However, what followed was quite disappointing. The HTC Sense web service that helped you manage or find your device (not to be confused with the Sense UI) mentioned in the video above was dropped quickly and suddenly - almost foreshadowing the company's reluctance to support services and devices for a prolonged period of time.

The Taiwanese manufacturer also went back on their excellent design decisions with flagships following the Desire HD. The 2012 One X, for example, was a massive disappointment to HTC fans. A polycarbonate (let's be honest, that's just a fancy name for plastic) body, a single flash (compared to the dual on Desire HD) and very unconvincing sound quality are just some of the grievances I had. My One X also got a massive scratch on its first drop. I never had such issues with the Desire HD.

So why did HTC change its design trajectory so suddenly? My only guess is that they wanted to adhere to the popular trends - pretty much all other phones at the time were plastic. This made them lighter and thinner, but flimsy and not very durable. The Taiwanese brand should have just stuck to their guns -  the aluminum bodies were not the problem. When you're competing with giants such as Apple and Samsung, you want to stand out, not blend in.

Marketing and gimmick blunders

Yet, it wasn't uncommon for HTC to stand out for all the wrong reasons. The manufacturer took interesting concepts such as a social media integration too far in an effort to appeal to a niche audience. Remember the HTC Facebook phones (called ChaCha, Salsa and First)? I had blissfully forgotten them until the Exodus gave me flashbacks. I feel like the decision to create either of them was reached the same way:

"What's in the news lately? Cryptocurrency (or Facebook) - everyone is investing in it, we should get on that quickly, make a themed phone and slap a bunch of related features and buzzwords when marketing."

htc chacha first
HTC ChaCha and HTC First. I'm sure the Exodus will be remembered just as fondly / © HTC

The HTC Evo 3D is another similar example, although it was a solid flagship, 3D camera aside. However, with the HTC One M7 and One M8, it seemed like HTC had finally found their niche in the market - amazing sound. The dual front-facing speakers of both phones were unrivalled in sound quality and power.

The HTC One M8 was also one of the first mainstream devices to have two camera sensors on the back, allowing for depth effects in photos. The Ultra Pixel technology the Taiwanese manufacturer experimented with, however, is better left unmentioned.

At the time of the One M series, HTC had ditched the 'quietly brilliant' slogan, yet I still felt that these excellent devices (One M9 not included) were left to market themselves. Compared to the aggressive campaigns other manufacturers run, it seems like the Taiwanese company just cannot compete - then or now.

If you want to be noticed, you have to put effort in advertising and marketing. HTC's Korean competitor Samsung, for example, was a household name way before smartphones. Despite that, for years they've been putting out light-hearted ads like this one - poking fun at Apple, while making a statement about their devices:

So yes, HTC's idea to let the devices speak for themselves is noble, but naive. It's just not enough, especially in 2018 when the market is flooded with new smartphones and manufacturers. Huawei, Honor and other Chinese brands didn't exist or were virtually unknown a decade ago in Europe or the US. Or they were considered cheaper alternatives to mainstream brands like Samsung and Apple. Now, they are leading the market in many regards, while HTC has been left behind.

Current state of affairs

Besides the Exodus, the latest HTC flagship is the U12+. I spent 2 weeks with the device, using it alongside my HTC 10, which I have stubbornly refused to upgrade to a newer smartphone until now. The first thing I noticed was that the U12+ is still not running on Android 9 Pie. Talking about Google's newest OS, one of its advertised features - flipping a ringing phone to silence it, has been an HTC staple since the Desire HD. Yes - the Taiwanese manufacturer was ahead of its time not only in terms of design and hardware, but software too.

AndroidPIT htc u12 plus 7989
The U12 + is a solid but boring device / © NextPit

Back on topic - it's frustrating that HTC neglects to update its flagships for so long. They've become notorious for this. The lack of updates is probably why many customers have abandoned the brand. My HTC 10 recently received an Oreo update, which I am thankful for, but I don't expect any further updates or support.

However, this is not my only gripe with HTC or the U12 +. Design-wise, their latest device looks like any other current smartphone. It doesn't have that signature HTC feel or look. The shiny finish on the back is quite annoying and gets fingerprint smudges constantly. I also feel like HTC could have gone one step bolder in making the back of the device completely transparent - à la the transparent Gameboy. It would have definitely made it stand out more than the current half-baked iteration.

The most insulting part, however, is the removal of the headphone jack. Touting your sound quality for years and then jumping on the 'no headphone jack' bandwagon for no apparent reason is just sad. And don't tell me it's because the device needed to be slimmed down - the U12+ doesn't look or feel much thinner than my good old HTC 10. Sure, there are USB-C headphones included in the box, but the quality difference is noticeable.

Two things I was initially skeptical about but ended up liking are the pressure sensitive buttons and Edge Sense. I would say both are innovative and intriguing - in true HTC spirit.

As for the Exodus - it might have some interesting features, but I think the average consumer will not care about them. Besides, most won't be able to purchase it anyway - you need to buy the smartphone with cryptocurrency. This is why I think it's important for HTC to find a middle ground between taking too many risks and just going with the flow. Mediocre smartphones and gimmick devices won't keep them afloat for much longer.

Don't get me wrong, I love HTC - I've been using their phones for 8 years now, but this is precisely why I might be more disappointed than most. It's frustrating to see them wasting their potential - to me HTC were one of the most compelling and innovative brands of the 2010s. So dear HTC, stop being quietly brilliant - shout from the rooftops when you create something amazing. No need for gimmicks - even though you haven't always deserved it, there still are customers who are loyal to your brand - you should be too.

What do you think about HTC nowadays? Can the company get back on track?

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  • 2
    sudhakargovindarajan Nov 12, 2018 Link to comment

    I've been an HTC customer since 2008. My first smart phone was HTC Diamond. Then had HTC Magic, HTC One V, HTC One M8 and now HTC U11. I choose HTC primarily because in my view they have the best skins amongst all Android phones. I've progressively seen HTC's skins feature make it to either Nexus or Pixel phones. And now, the "squeeze" feature of HTC is part of Pixel phones. Sad to see that these "pioneers" have fallen behind to likes of Samsung - who at best are imitators. In my view, HTC should do the following to get out of trouble:

    1) Get the sound grill back. That's the distinguishing feature of HTC
    2) Support both USB Type C headset and the standard headphones
    3) Bring back the Infra Red support
    4) Bring back the RE Camera - with some minor tweaking and making it a 'wearable device' and offer it as "free" accessory
    5) HTC Watches - based on e-Sim must be released

    And yes, the marketing HAS to improve and they have to get their pricing right. Good luck HTC. I look forward to HTC rise from the ashes again

    Suzana Dalul

  • dave Counts 6
    dave Counts Nov 7, 2018 Link to comment

    Dolby Audio not 'Dolbi'

    Suzana Dalul

    • Suzana Dalul 14
      Suzana Dalul Nov 9, 2018 Link to comment

      Thanks for spotting the typo!

  • 2
    DjonMister Nov 5, 2018 Link to comment

    HTC makes great phones still they really messed up after the released the M9, the M8 which i still have is a great phone all it needed was an 8mp rear camera but they blew it 🤦‍♂️😒 .I honestly hope they comeback better than ever ✔

    Suzana DalulKath

  • 25
    Deactivated Account Nov 5, 2018 Link to comment

    No timely software updates..... No buy. That's the golden rule to be considered seriously when buying a smartphone. Be it six months late like Samsung, but maintain the dignity of my purchase of such an expensive (plainly speaking) smartphone.

    Suzana Dalul

  • 2
    TheDigitalJedi Nov 4, 2018 Link to comment

    I've been using a HTC device since the HTC EVO was sold exclusively at Sprint and I've been very happy with every HTC device I've had since then.

    I've also had the HTC EVO 4G LTE, HTC One M7, HTC One M9 and now the HTC 10

    My only problem I have now is that HTC devices are no longer being sold at / thru Sprint and the HTC U 12+ I consider a dream device that I'll never own.

    So I'm stuck with my 10, which isn't completely terrible, I just won't be able to upgrade to a HTC device. I've seen a few of my favorite YouTubers ... shall I say: Bash ... The HTC U 12+ ( to some extent ) but, that hasn't discouraged me from calling it my favorite device ( that I've seen to date ). Although, my Sprint bill is pretty good & I can afford it but, I'm left scratching my head about why HTC devices aren't available thru my provider any longer.

    Why wouldn't they make it available on a CDMA network, go figure ...

    I sign this: ( reluctant ) #TeamHTC Fam The Digital Jedi

    Mana GotSuzana Dalul

  • 3
    Drazen Tijan Nov 4, 2018 Link to comment

    I'm HTC fan from 2010 Htc desire. I"ve replace Desire with One, and so on every year until U11 which I"m using now. I was hoping that HTC will continue introducing inovative phones but it seems that they can't compete with market leaders, unfortunately. I hope that next flagship will prove that HTC is still inovative and different than rest of the copy paste smart phone makers. All the best

    Mana GotSuzana DalulTheDigitalJedi

  • 3
    Scott Lantow Nov 4, 2018 Link to comment

    Great article! I too have been an HTC fanboy, for me it is been since the HTC Mogul on Sprint. The Windows mobile phones were quite awesome in my opinion, but I am also biased because I loved their hardware and software, but loved modifying the software even more! My first HTC Android was the Evo 4G, and was wildly ahead of its times and freaking amazing. Definitely think the M8 was a huge ahead-of-its-time phone as well, and I've been taking portrait photos for a long time with it, but people just seem to not care LOL. The HTC 10 somehow got even better and that is absolutely my favorite HTC that I still carry with me daily as my secondary device, my primary now being the HTC u12 Plus. So far I love everything about the u12 plus and have had little to absolutely no issues with it at all, including the buttons that everybody freaks out about. I most absolutely believe that the people having issues with buttons are just being impatient, and need to just adjust their hold of the phone and then the buttons would work... I seem to notice that if my buttons aren't functioning as I expect them to, but just my grip and they start working. That being said this u12 plus absolutely the best phone they have ever made, however I kind of prefer the full aluminum very durable feel of the HTC 10 over this new popular glass delicate feel of these devices. I absolutely think that their Folly was marketing, but also did not get any help from the media or people that would quickly dismissed HTC ahead of their times features & Design. Quite often HTC would come out with a new phone, HTC would do the same thing and everybody would go wild. Frustrates me so much... LOL. That all being said, I kind of feel like the only way that HTC will come back as if us HTC fans stand up and make a loud desire for them to continue making phones in the industry, tell all of our friends, and help share their content around social media groups. The only way to get popular, support, and Company growth is in sight in mind. Right now, they are absolutely not inside or mind seeing that they don't have phones in stores any longer. However, I feel like having the phone in the store was completely useless because phone sales people, I used to be one so I do apologize but I believe this while I was selling phones, don't know shit about phones and only suggest iPhones or Samsung. If a consumer comes in and says oh I don't want iPhone, the sales rep will bring up Samsung. If the consumer says I don't want Samsung cuz everybody has that, the rep will bring up LG. I've never heard a sales rep bring up Htc when I have been shopping just for fun in a store LOL. I then asked them about it, and they really don't know shit about the phone. So I think if they pushed hard on marketing online and just sold their own damn phones, they may be able to take a turn upward and stay in the game. But with them clearly not being very knowledgeable about how to Market in the state's here, they need our fan boy help! LOL

    Tom SMana GotSuzana DalulTheDigitalJedi

  • David Van Etten 2
    David Van Etten Nov 4, 2018 Link to comment

    It's unfortunate that an HTC obit is required, but you nailed it. I was with them from the Hero, One, 3D, One Max and then my m9 would just NOT stop working and barely lagged after 4 years. Their choices left me no appeal on the U12 and I finally had to buy a not-htc phone last month (Pixel 3 XL). Sort of heart breaking as I was an unofficial PR guy for HTC to all my friends and phone lovers. Eventually HTC made it so you had no response when someone would ask you why you would favor htc. I emailed them asking and begging for good choices and to continue their work but they had obviously decided to let it go the last few years. Now I'll be sticking a Google sticker next to my long time solo green HTC one. Memories.

    Mana GotSuzana Dalul

  • Ezjohny 2
    Ezjohny Nov 4, 2018 Link to comment

    I have an Htc phone and I like the phone, htc should go with there own ideas and stop following. Look at the pixel 3, it only has one camera and there ahead. Htc put on your man pants and shine once again!!! Hint l like two cameras tho.

    Mana GotSuzana Dalul

  • Ari Politi 3
    Ari Politi Nov 4, 2018 Link to comment

    Yes, I was with HTC for years as well, since the Desire HD, and was a loyal customer (including M8 and M9, to name a few),
    However - and forgive me father cause I've sinned - I've recently moved to Huawei..
    I believe it's because HTC ceased to excite me, and all the talk about bankruptcy also didn't help..
    But I'm willing to go back to my good 'ol ex, if she'll only show a little excitement...

    Mana GotTheDigitalJediSuzana Dalul

  • Mohammed Moola 2
    Mohammed Moola Nov 4, 2018 Link to comment

    I've been an Htc fan and user since 2011! Till today rocking a u11.... Best phones ever. If only they could advertise Abit more.... And be more on the ball... Agree that this is a very good article ! In South Africa we don't get HTC. It's a pity they left the country 3 years ago. I hope sometime soon they rise again. Simply cannot use any other phone as HTC has no lag whatsoever. All other junk are so laggy... Surprising to see even current flagships suffer from lag. My prayers are with Htc

    Tom SMana Got

  • 2
    Eddie11 Nov 4, 2018 Link to comment

    Great article and I agree with most of what you say. I had the M7 (still works great) and switched my service provider because I wanted the HTC 10 and all because of their beautiful designs and great htc features especially dual front speakers (kind of on htc10) but their advertising is kind of too quiet. Many don't even know htc phones like 3 years ago and that tells you they don'tdo marketing. HTC should be where apple is and apple iPhone should be where htc is now because the innovation is the other way around. Apple just has sheepl pooe since iPhone4 they haven't done anything great and htc is making all the wrong decisions. Really too bad and hope they survive.

    Mana Got

  • Mana Got 5
    Mana Got Nov 4, 2018 Link to comment

    Years ago when most smart phones offered a handset without any keys, HTC offered a device with a flipping keyboard, which I loved! They really thought about old-fashioned customers! It’s a pitty they left ground for brands like Huawey (I thought it was a brand only popular in the third world) and do nothing to come back on the market victoriously! The best article I’ve read on the HTC brand ever!

    Suzana Dalul

  • NickZ 3
    NickZ Nov 4, 2018 Link to comment

    This would have to be the best article on HTC that I have read for years. Thanks. I'm glad I'm not the only person to believe that HTC should be screaming and stick to there own design language than attempting to blend in with everyone else

    Tom SMana GotTheDigitalJediSuzana Dalul

  • 49
    storm Nov 4, 2018 Link to comment

    I thought their phones were awful to behold. Tended to run over priced and bloated too. Did better on the Nexus run

    • David Martrano 29
      David Martrano Nov 4, 2018 Link to comment

      I used the 10 for over 2yrs & loved it. They have been mis-managed far too long. With no marketing or carrier support their dying a slow death. This is definitely a crying shame. Their latest effort the EXDOUS will be their final swan song. A crying shame indeed. Google could have saved them but instead decided it was not worth the effort!

      TheDigitalJediSuzana DalulDeactivated Account

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