These are difficult times for Taiwan?s HTC. Just over two years ago, it supplied one in every 10 smartphones sold around the world. Nowadays, it is battling rivals such as Apple and Samsung to stay relevant in the superhot smartphone market. It is fighting back with a new line of cheaper handsets, including its new flagship smartphone, called the HTC One M8. ?We have been through a difficult period over the last few years,? says Chia-Lin Chang, president of global sales and CFO at HTC. ?Very soon we will again return HTC to a competitive position in the market,? he tells Sudhir Chowdhary in a recent interaction. Excerpts:
HTC?s global market share has fallen drastically in recent years. Apple, Samsung and other handset makers have soared over your offerings. What went wrong, why did you lag behind?
HTC makes the world?s best smartphones by delighting consumers and continuously innovating. That is what we have done for nearly 20 years and will continue to do. HTC has always been an underdog and we have always had to work hard and fight for every sale, every point of market share. We are a relatively young company.
We have been through a difficult period over the last few years. Positioning and selling our HTC Desire range?we didn?t have enough spectrum of product last year. That was one factor, which we feel why our market share dropped. But we have rectified that and have some great HTC Desire models this year?HTC Desire 210, HTC Desire 310, HTC Desire 816, are all beautiful phones with some knockout but simple benefits, and we need them to jump off the shelf. The response has already been overwhelming on most of them.
We have already taken definitive steps to make 2014 our most exciting and profitable year. We have streamlined our focus on two main product lines, HTC One and HTC Desire. We want to take advantage of the agility that enabled the company to experience such incredible growth in the past and adopt a nimble, entrepreneurial approach. Very soon we will again return HTC to a competitive position in the market.
How important is the Indian market for HTC from a global perspective?
India is a very important market for us. When we design our products, we have Indian users on our minds. We know that if we can succeed in India then we can succeed in not just emerging markets but also other industrial economies. Indian market is unique because the competition is high at every segment, and consumers are well-informed.
All products we sell in India are reflective of our entire product portfolio. Indian consumers appreciate design, appearance of the phone. We are encouraged by that. We are turning precise focus on design to the mid-range, making superlative design and premium performance more accessible to a larger proportion of consumers.
By taking the iconic design DNA of the HTC One, and applying exciting colours and premium materials, we are giving the HTC Desire family its own distinctive flavour. What this means is that people who want a more affordable phone that reflects their individuality won?t have to compromise. If we do well in India, most likely we will do well globally. We are hopeful that the HTC Desire 210 will allow us to reach-out to a wider audience.
How has the market responded to HTC One?
The HTC One has been very successful and a consistent bestseller for us. It is still praised by many as the best phone on the market. Despite the deep-pocketed duopoly that dominates our industry, people continue to talk about HTC, as measured by brand awareness. In fact, HTC One was one of the most critically acclaimed handsets of 2013. With the HTC One M8, we have taken the premium experience to a different level altogether.
What are the initiatives you have in mind for increasing the presence in India?
HTC has a market share of 7% in the Indian smartphone market. But we want to take this up to 15% in the next two years. The new products will help us achieve this. However, the Indian market is highly competitive. Also, a focused and effective marketing?we will engage more people in the HTC stores and give them the chance to experience our products in a way that suits their pockets.
We are channelising our energies to have a laser focus on improving our supply chain and having sufficient channel stock for our new products to really get established quickly.
In fact, customer support is another area where we have been consistently improving since last year.
What are going to be the focus areas for HTC in India?
There are two important factors to click in a price sensitive market like India it is?getting the portfolio right and working closely with the operators and retail channels in the market. For the last one year, we have been thinking hard about whether we want to introduce a phone below the R10,000 price point. We didn?t want to launch another phone. It?s not about pricing, it?s about giving consumers an option than what?s already available in the market.
Consumers are very demanding and want the latest and greatest quickly in this market. We have a India-specific roadmap. However, we will not compete at the very low end of this market, as there are others better equipped for this, but we do have some very competitive models targeted at the ?premium? low-cost segment.
HTC phones are widely recognised for their attractive design. What really goes into designing devices?
Design is, and always has been, at the heart of everything we do and, while other companies are cutting corners to reduce prices, HTC is doubling up on design to deliver a more premium experience at a more affordable price. We instinctively knew that great design makes our lives better, but great design isn?t just about beauty. Great design combines form and function in one seamless package.
For India in particular, we are turning that same precise focus on design to the mid-range, making superlative design and premium performance more accessible to a larger proportion of consumers. For example, by taking the iconic design DNA of the HTC One, and applying exciting colours, we are giving the HTC Desire family its own distinctive flavour. What this means is that people who want a more affordable phone that reflects their individuality won?t have to compromise. The first HTC Desire model to showcase this new design language is the HTC Desire 816.
Everybody is talking about wearable devices these days. Is HTC exploring this domain?
The mobile ecosystem today is about so much more than the immediate handset and aside from the whole new wearable growth, we are also looking to ensure people can enjoy the best possible experience. On our stand, HTC will be demonstrating our HTC Connect certification programme and a MirrorLink-enabled VW car to show how easily and seamlessly the smartphone can fit at the heart of our lives whether at home or on the road. HTC will also launch wearable devices in the second half of 2014.