It’s rare to find an executive in the wireless industry who has stuck with a company for 20 years. Peter Chou, co-founder and CEO of HTC, has done just that and has emerged as one of those unlikely rock stars of the OEM world.
The mild-mannered Chou now regularly joins the likes of Sanjay Jha and Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo at device-unveiling podiums. As of recently, you can bet that more often than not, the flashy handset Chou is holding up for applause is running on Android.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING
HTC has been around since 1997. The company’s initial project to create an HTCbranded PDA fell flat, while also eating up a lot of the company’s initial capital. A financial bailout of sorts from founding member and current Chairman Cher Mi Wang managed to turn things around, allowing HTC to spend a few years white-labeling devices to companies such as Sharp, HP and Dell.
It wasn’t until 2002 that Chou and company began turning out Pocket PCs built around the Windows Mobile platform. Those were the devices that grabbed the attention of some of the major wireless carriers. Then, in 2006, HTC branded its first smartphone, also based on the Windows Mobile operating system, and cemented its status as one of the largest Windows Mobile OEMs in the industry.
By almost all accounts, Microsoft’s mobile platform has seen better days. Recent AdMob metrics show that WinMo lost more than 75 percent of its monthly market share in 2009. When asked whether that would force HTC to scale back on its Windows Mobile projects, Chou expressed confidence in the Windows Phone 7 Series and added that there’s still demand for the platform that got HTC up and running.
“We have received tremendously positive feedback regarding the recently released HTC HD2 and HTC HD mini from all over the world. With the recent announcement of Windows Phone 7 Series, Microsoft has clearly listened to feedback from people and responded with a new, fresh approach to the smartphone experience. HTC is looking forward to continuing our longstanding partnership with Microsoft,” Chou says.
But it would be a mistake to say that an astute tech veteran like Chou was oblivious of the winds of change. HTC was the first to jump with both feet into the Android pool. When asked what Chou found appealing about the Android platform when Google asked the company to design hardware for the T-Mobile G1, he says it’s about versatility as well as the possibility of deeply integrating Google’s existing software and services.
“HTC sees Android as an opportunity to provide people with the most desired capabilities such as easier access to the most relevant information and content and seamless access to Google applications and services such as Gmail, Google Maps and other popular Google offerings,” Chou says. Chou says that the first 1 million G1s sold in the United States were a sign that Android was worth a commitment.
“From the initial adoption of the T-Mobile G1 in the U.S. to the global excitement over the HTC Hero and most recently the HTC Desire and Legend, it is clear that Android offers a unique and compelling experience to people. HTC is proud to be part of that enthusiasm and will continue to innovate on Android with HTC Sense to make it even more personal and relevant for people all over the globe,” Chou says.
The well-received Sense UI has only bolstered the popularity of HTC’s Android phones. It offers differentiation to a platform that increasingly suffers from a lack thereof as more devices come to market.
“The Sense UI is designed on three fundamental principles of ‘make it mine,’ ‘stay close,’ and ‘discover the unexpected,’” Chou says. “It allows people to choose the information and experiences that mean the most to them.”
BUILDING FOR DIFFERENT TASTES
“Choice” is a word that comes up a lot with Chou. He says that HTC is built around the idea that there are a lot of different kinds of consumers out there, and they all want something different in a phone. When asked whether the idea of choice translates into an HTC netbook or tablet in the near future, Chou says they’ll stick with phones, at least for now.
“Currently HTC has not announced plans to enter the netbook space. That being said, with the introduction of larger screens, faster processers, and higher data speeds, the capabilities of smartphones today are encroaching on those of smaller personal computers. Because of this, consumers may see a new era of converged devices in the future,” he says.
But will the smartphone kill the feature phone as a choice available to consumers? Chou doesn’t think so. He says there will always be a need for a spectrum of devices, and simple, easy-to-use devices are a must for certain demographics.
While we continue to see changing needs of consumers in the mobile industry, those changes are a two-way street. While many are choosing to upgrade to a device with more capabilities, there will always been a segment of the market looking for a quality mobile phone to deliver on basic communications needs,” Chou says, adding that HTC’s recently announced HTC Smart is one example of the company’s belief in this philosophy. The Smart, which was unveiled at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, is a scaled-down smartphone that uses Qualcomm’s BREW Mobile Platform.
To be sure, Android has a lot of growing to do as a mobile platform and there will inevitably be kinks along the way. No doubt, Google is encouraged by the existence of hardware companies like HTC that can give its baby the kind of meticulous design seen in such devices as the HTC Hero, the myTouch 3G and most recently, Google’s very own Nexus One.