How HTC went from smartphone trailblazer to barely breathing

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It’s hard to imagine things getting much worse for HTC. After years of struggles, one of the pioneering companies that helped build the modern smartphone was recently removed from the Taiwanese Stock Exchange’s list of 50 largest firms. It’s still a part of the stock market, but it’s clear that HTC’s days of blazing trails and blazing profits are behind it.

What happened?

Despite helping to lead the charge to bring smartphones to the masses over the past decade and a half, HTC has little to show for it. The company has gone from being the most valued Android device maker in the world to a shadow of its former self.

How HTC rose to prominence is almost as impressive as the series of unfortunate events that has crippled the once valuable brand. From weak marketing to poor business moves, HTC’s forecast has grown windier and rainier every year. Is there sunshine ahead, or is this just the eye of the storm for the High Tech Computer company?

How HTC fueled the Android revolution

Though its massive success in Android didn’t start until 2008, HTC began way back in 1997 and became one of the largest (though largely unknown) makers of smartphones over the next decade. In 2000, it released one of the earliest touch-screen smartphones; in 2002, it created the first Windows-powered smartphone; and in 2005, it helped usher in 3G. It was also responsible for big early successes like the Palm Treo 650 and released several highly regarded Windows Mobile devices that helped push the platforms forward.

In 2010, HTC was named one of the most innovative companies in the world.

In 2008, its fortunes shot skyward with the release of the T-Mobile G1, the first Android phone. Throughout the next two years, HTC capitalized, launching the successful Droid Incredible on Verizon and the first American 4G phone, the Evo, with Sprint, along with a number of major successes. It even helped design Google’s first-ever smartphone, the Nexus One.

In 2010, HTC was named one of the most innovative companies in the world. It was quickly becoming one of the most valuable smartphone brands in the world, too, competing head to head with Apple in the U.S. and Europe with its flagship smartphones. What helped fuel HTC’s success was a little piece of software called TouchFLO 3D.

TouchFLO 3D was a customizable home screen that took the boring, spreadsheet-like home page for Windows Mobile and turned it into a sleek, useful way to search through contacts, make calls, check your email, and send messages. While Windows Mobile soon died and TouchFLO 3D with it, HTC ported the software to Android and rebranded. Today we know it as HTC Sense.

When HTC Sense first launched, the Android 2.1 (Eclair) interface was a total mess, hardly as intuitive and easy to use as it is today on Android 6.0 Marshmallow. HTC Sense filled in the gaps for Android users by providing a much sleeker experience from the home screen for viewing the time, weather, and other information at a glance. But despite all HTC accomplished, by 2011, the ground had already begun to shift.

To better compete, Samsung looked at what HTC accomplished and crafted its own themed Android home screen, called TouchWiz, with the Samsung Galaxy S in 2010. Then it began flooding the market with devices. HTC and Samsung both began to release phone after phone in a battle for supremacy, but with deeper pockets and better marketing, Samsung’s advantage quickly began to show.

The HTC vs. Apple battleground became Samsung vs. Apple as a series of mistakes sent the Taiwanese company spiraling.

Next page: How HTC’s strategies killed its growth

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