7/21/2010 12:26:00 PM
Jon French: ‘HTC is not a one-trick pony’
HTC has built a reputation for being ahead of the curve. It was the first to develop an Android handset, and the first to collaborate with Google to produce the Nexus One.
This is not a company that rests on its laurels, so what will be its next groundbreaking venture? Industry observers are placing bets on HTC being the first manufacturer to deliver a handset powered by Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7 operating system.
Jon French, executive director at HTC UK, will neither confirm nor deny the rumours. Speaking to Mobile, he says: ‘I can’t comment on our future products but we have said we will be involved in Windows Phone 7. You should definitely watch this space.’
French is certainly confident HTC’s new portfolio of smartphones will cause a stir in the market.
He adds: ‘HTC is not a one or two trick pony. We have huge confidence in our portfolio, as do our customers – not just in Q4 but also into the next year. We are trying desperately hard to maintain our leadership on every platform and from what we can see so far we are maintaining that.’
So could HTC’s next innovation be a collaborative venture with Google on Nexus 2?
French remains evasive. He says: ‘There is nothing I can talk about yet. However, we have the best relationship with Google up to CEO level in the industry so I wouldn’t automatically rule out anything in the future.’
French does confirm that HTC is currently negotiating with Microsoft on whether it can overlay the Windows Phone 7 OS with HTC’s Sense UI.
‘That’s TBC,’ he says, adding: ‘That is subject to negotiations with Microsoft, but the benefit we have is that we are the largest manufacturer in the world on Windows platform and we have worked hand in glove with Microsoft for 13 years, so no one has better relations with Microsoft than HTC.’
HTC’s loyalty to Microsoft is unwavering, despite its involvement with Android – a move that had pundits predicting a split with Microsoft.
French says: ‘We surprised a few people by staying true to Microsoft and developing on the Windows platform. A lot of people thought we would move everything across to Android, but we haven’t done that as we have always believed it is what we can do on top of that platform that really matters, irrelevant of what that platform does. What we do is try and be quietly brilliant, like the strapline says, and integrate that with the platform and into the functionality of our devices.’
It is manufacturer’s Sense user interface that differentiates HTC in the marketplace, French argues. So will HTC go one step further and develop an HTC Sense operating system?
French does not dismiss the idea. He says: ‘I wouldn’t rule anything out, but at this moment we are very busy running across Google, Windows Microsoft and Brew so it would have to have real benefits to us and our customers. We would only build on that platform if it allowed us to deliver something different.’
In the meantime, HTC is consolidating its relations with its growing band of customers. French recalls: ‘One year ago, we were probably selling actively to six customers in the UK, and as you can see we have aggressively expanded that share and also increased that share in every customer we are dealing with.’
French says HTC’s growing success is down to its attention to detail. ‘Our customers say we are a breath of fresh air,’ he claims, adding: ‘We don’t just take a Hero device and add on or take away certain functions and then say it’s a youth product. We really make it come alive – from the device, through to the marketing campaign and the way we bring it to market – and that is the bit that has really gained us great traction with our customers.’
HTC has also made huge strides in developing its brand awareness among consumers, helped by the hugely successful marketing campaign for the HTC Desire and the HTC Legend.
French explains: ‘The growth in brand awareness in a short period of time has been nothing short of phenomenal. We engineered the perfect storm with a great handset, customer engagement, our customers’ marketing input and customer satisfaction and recommendations, and suddenly we start to see snowballing growth.’
Key to this rise in brand awareness was customer buy-in to the HTC brand, explains French.
‘The marketing campaign went really well but the real multiplier was the customer engagement that we had. You couldn’t walk down any high street without coming across our name. It was the first time we had got the marketing campaign and the customer engagement right and their belief that the HTC brand could sell lots of volume for our customers, and that is why they backed it so wholeheartedly.’
However, the downside was the unprecedented demand for the HTC Desire – which saw stocks run out and led some critics to claim HTC was manipulating the market to create pent up demand. This is an accusation French strenuously denies.
‘The demand for the product took our customers and therefore ourselves by surprise and the shortages were not on one particular product, so I can categorically say it was not a tactic.’
One thing is for sure, HTC is continuing its drive into the smartphone sector. Currently number four in smartphone sales worldwide behind Nokia, Apple and RIM, French says HTC is determined to claw its way up the league table.
He warns: ‘We are certainly not content with fourth place and are not afraid of taking the number three slot. That is in no way an unachievable position.’
With sales of HTC handsets soaring and an ever-expanding customer base, industry experts question whether HTC can continue to use Brightpoint as its sole distributor. French says there are no immediate plans to take on more distributors but claims that this could happen in the near future.
‘We are expanding our points of distribution all the time, and I think we will see new points of distribution for us before the end of this year where you haven’t seen HTC handsets before.
‘So at some point it may mean we will need to think about a different distributor strategy, just to make sure we can execute as best as we possibly can a plan to get the products everywhere there is demand – and that demand is increasing daily – but at the moment we are with Brightpoint only.’