Taiwanese mobile giant HTC ups its attack on Irish market

17 Mar 2011

Innovative Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC is beefing up its resources in the Irish marketplace, having appointed a management team for the country, including a customer care centre in Rathcoole, Dublin.

The move comes at an interesting time in the mobile marketplace. Mobile phone sales soared 31.8pc higher during 2010, according to Gartner, with sales reaching 1.6bn devices. Smartphones from players like Samsung, HTC, Apple and Nokia make up close to 20pc of the total market.

The landscape is shifting. Nokia has just entered into a strategic partnership with Microsoft to install Windows Phone 7 on future Nokia handsets. In the meantime, Google’s Android is consolidating its grip on the global smartphone market with Gingerbread-powered devices entering the fray, while rival Apple gets ready to launch its iPhone 5 this summer.

HTC’s background

HTC is a mobile manufacturer that pioneered the world’s first touchscreen devices and would traditionally have made phones and laptops on contact for other manufacturers, such as Palm and iPaq devices, as well as branded devices for Vodafone, O2 and T-Mobile.

The $10bn a year company, which was established in 1997 by Cher Wang and Peter Chou, in the last few years started making its own branded smartphones based on the Android and Windows Phone 7 operating systems.

It’s best known devices, the Desire and the Wildfire, are in hot demand and compete against devices like the iPhone 4 from Apple and the latest Nexus S from Samsung.

New country manager Gavan Barrett, who in the past worked at Nokia, says the intention is to replicate the success of HTC in other markets.

“It’s a big challenge. The products are great and the brand is well received and we have had great success with Meteor championing our devices. The intention is to expand on this now by putting solid infrastructure in place, including a customer care centre, deals with distributors and marketing agreements with operators,” he explained.

Barrett said that key to operators like O2 and Vodafone supporting HTC in the market was establishing customer support and distribution. “They said, ‘Get the distribution and customer support right and we’ll support you’.”

This support will prove vital when new devices, which were launched recently at the Mobile World Congress, will debut in the Irish market, including the Android-based Desire S and Wildfire S, and the Windows Phone 7-based HD 7, not to mention a forthcoming Android tablet computer called The Flyer, which will compete directly with Apple’s forthcoming iPad 2.

Other devices due to hit the market include the ChaCha and the Salsa, which feature deep Facebook integration and have a Facebook key that uploads ‘Likes’, videos, images and song preferences to Facebook.

Extra touch from HTC

One of the hallmarks of HTC’s approach to smartphones is the work the manufacturer puts into creating a uniquely HTC experience on devices. For example, while most manufacturers would simply plonk Android software onto the phones they are selling, HTC would add embellishments such as weather software that reflects the weather where you are.

Barrett said that differentiation is key to HTC’s approach to smartphones and tablets, and in recent months the company announced a strategic investment in OnLive, which enables live game console-style gameplay over the internet cloud. He added that the company has also acquired a company called Saffron Digital that will provide a unique video content service for devices like The Flyer.

“We’re not interested in just putting hardware out there. People need a proposition, a reason to buy and use the device.”

An example of this will be a stylus that will come with The Flyer, which will act as a digital pen to allow users to replicate the handwriting experience on their tablet computers and annotate their notes with audio while scribbling at meetings.

“Users will be able to go to a precise point in a document they’ve handwritten and listen back to their notes and share it into the cloud with apps like Evernote,” Barrett explained.

With more than 100 different tablet devices due to hit the market, including the Motorola XOOM and the BlackBerry PlayBook, Barrett believes this kind of differentiation will be key.

“We face a very interesting year ahead with Android and Windows devices of varying screen sizes – from four inches up to 10 inches – hitting the marketplace. It’s all to play for,” he said.

“(The year) 2011 will be a battleground in the area of smartphones. At the moment, HTC is at the forefront of the fight.”

That fight has already begun this week in the US with the launch of the HTC Thunderbolt on Verizon’s network – effectively the world’s first long term evolution (LTE) phone – that will give data users speeds of up to 12Mbps on the move. Clearly HTC means business.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years