Where has HTC’s innovation gone?

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HTC’s mission statement is “to become the leading innovative supplier of mobile information and communication devices by providing value-added design, world-class manufacturing and logistic and service capabilities.”

Whilst this may have been a realistic aim over the past 10 years, 2011’s offerings suggest that HTC is in danger of falling behind competitors in the innovation race.

A quarter of HTC’s whole workforce is involved with the R&D side of things and in conjunction with companies like Microsoft and Google it has previously produced new ideas and “firsts” aplenty.

But the HTC innovation train seems to have slowed down recently and while that R&D quarter of the company has been seemingly twiddling their thumbs over at HTC’s headquarters, other companies look like they are beginning to stretch out in front.

 

Smartphones

2011 has already seen several industry firsts within the smartphone vicinity.

LG has been busy developing the first dual-core smartphone, the LG Optimus 2X, and the first 3D smartphone, the LG Optimus 3D. Motorola has developed the impressive Atrix, which also packs a dual-core processor and links up with some seriously innovative accessories, such as the laptop-dock.

Samsung has also upped the ante in looks and features in the shape of the Galaxy S II – it’s got massive storage capacity, a great 8-megapixel camera and a dual-core processor. The Galaxy S II is also one of the thinnest devices on the planet as well.

By contrast, HTC’s efforts are rather disappointing. The Incredible S is HTC’s flagship product and is priced at around £500 SIM-free.

Nonetheless, what the Incredible S actually offers, when compared to the likes of the Atrix and Galaxy S II, remains to be seen. Sure, it’s similarly priced, but when you check the specs you’ll see that’s where the similarities end. In short, you’ll get better value for money with other phones.

The Incredible S does boast an 8-megapixel camera and a rather nifty feature where the buttons below the screen rotate with the phone’s orientation. But this really isn’t enough in our eyes, and you could hardly say that the device is breaking new ground.

The Desire S and Wildfire S appear to be updates of the original Desire and Wildfire, albeit updates that have disappointed us given that not a great deal has changed. The other phones revealed at MWC are the ChaCha and the Salsa – both aimed at a more youthful crowd.

All in all when it comes to smartphones, HTC is struggling to keep up with the pace set by its competitors – or maybe it’s holding back for some big releases in Q2 of 2011?

Either way, none of the HTC’s most recent batch of smartphones are particularly future-proof. In fact, if you’re considering going on a two-year contract for one, you might want to hold your horses, regroup and have a look around at the competition – it’s plentiful, and of a far superior spec.

There isn’t anything exactly wrong with the Incredible S, or any of the other phones that HTC is bringing to the party – far from it. They’re all solid devices. The thing that niggles us though, is this: there’s nothing remotely exciting about them either – the term ‘very 2009’ springs to mind.

Tablets

HTC’s debut tablet is called the Flyer and it’s due out in April for a jaw-dropping price of £600. At this point it might be worth reminding you that this is more expensive than the iPad 2 and roughly the same price as the Motorola Xoom.

HTC has gone for the smaller end of the tablet spectrum at 7-inches, which will be easier for carrying around, although a more pessimistic view will be that it is more a ‘giant smartphone’ than actual ‘tablet’.

Of the main competitors to the Flyer, only the Blackberry PlayBook has opted for the same size as HTC. RIM has specced the PlayBook according to the current big players, and the spec, despite its size, is impressive. Unlike the Flyer’s passé internals.

We really hoped that the Flyer packed enough of a punch to keep up with the competition, and although it is by no means a bad tablet, there is nothing that suggests it will be a long-term competitor.

For instance, there’s no dual-core processor, which immediately puts it behind the iPad 2, Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Similarly, the Xoom and Galaxy Tab 10.1 both feature the tablet-specific Android 3.0, whereas the Flyer will ship with Android 2.3, therefore missing out on important tablet features.

These two factors could really hurt HTC’s bid to become a big tablet powerhouse – at least with its first attempt, anyway.

The Flyer’s cameras are better than the iPad 2’s but it is difficult to see how the £600 price tag can be justified when you consider the difference in spec between the two devices.

What others think

Perhaps we’re being a bit harsh on HTC. It isn’t difficult for expectations to get carried away in this day and age. The best way to judge this would be to look at what others say and whether they agree with us that HTC has lost its cutting edge. For the benefit of everybody’s eyes and time, we will limit ourselves to just looking at the flagship Incredible S and the Flyer.

HTC Incredible S

Cnet say that the HTC Incredible S “should have been called the HTC Perfectly Satisfied” and that it “feels merely credible compared to some of its mind-bending competition”.

Pocket-lint questions the need for a dual-core processor now, but readily admits there may be a difference in 6 months time.

They also describe the HTC Incredible S as having “something about it that feels like the best of last year’s devices” and suggest that the “murmurs [from MWC 2011] were right – the Incredible S might not have evolved far enough”.

Tech-Radar describe the Incredible S as “a market-leading smartphone, and a phone that’s going to delight many users” however they also said “we don’t love it as much as our other phones, namely because it doesn’t really move things far enough forward in terms of functionality and use”.

3G.co.uk seem to agree with the increasingly general consensus, “while no one could deny it’s a good handset, it could well be overtaken by the next generation of superphones that are due out this summer”.

ElectricPig says that the Incredible S is “the best Android phone right now, period”, but also concedes “its only real drawback is the competition it faces: with the dual core, turbo charged Motorola Atrix and Samsung Galaxy S2 just around the corner, it could be worth holding out”.

HTC Flyer

CNet suggest that “HTC Flyer’s hardware looks slick, but it doesn’t run the tablet-optimised version of Android. As such, all of HTC’s user-interface wizardry will be needed to ensure it can compete with its rivals.”

Pocket-Lint seemed impressed by the Flyer and say that “it seems a considered approach to a tablet device rather than just another large phone”. Pocket-lint seemed particularly impressed by the tablet version of HTC Sense.

TechRadar say that they are “mostly impressed with the HTC Flyer” although caveat that with concern over whether “consumers will accept a 7-inch single-core device running an older version of Android in the face of dual-core larger options”.

ElectricPig seems to be a big fan of the “amazing” pen that comes with the Flyer and the options that it opens up. They also state that “HTC Sense is a joy to use, giving it a real edge over some of its excellent Android tablet rivals”.

Verdict

HTC has been and still is considered an innovative company. It was named the Brand of the Year 2010 at the T3 Awards as well as scooping best phone for the HTC Desire. The HTC Desire also won most Innovative Handset at the Mobile News Awards just last night too.

That said, as we all know, the world of smartphones and now tablets too, does not stand still for anybody. The success that HTC has had in the past, and is still experiencing, is due to work it’s already done – not its recent products.

The Incredible S needed a boost to really stand alongside the other phones that are in its price range. Dual-core processors or increased storage capacity may have helped to jazz it up a touch.

Sure, it may be one of the best phones around right now, but that won’t be the case once LG, Motorola and Samsung have had their say – not to mention Apple and its iPhone 5.

Similarly with the Flyer, the specs are decent enough, but for a company like HTC, we really expected more.

Why HTC has decided to go without a dual-core processor in either its tablet or phone has really got us scratching our heads. HTC may be hoping that its HTC Sense UI will be enough to get customers to part with £600 for a Flyer, but we’re not so sure.

We just hope that HTC sharpens up its cutting edge for 2012.

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