Is that a smartphone in your pocket? If so, there’s a one-in-five chance that it’s made by HTC. The Taiwanese phone manufacturer has come on strongly in six years, moving from a company that anonymously made handsets for Orange, O2 and others to become the third most valuable smartphone maker after Apple and Samsung.
Yesterday HTC confirmed its position in the market with the launch of a new handset in New York aimed largely, though not exclusively, at women. It comes in plum or champagne gold, with cute accessories including tangle-free headphones, a cube-like charm that glows to let you know a call has come in and a charging dock to turn the phone into a bedside alarm clock.
Key to the company’s meteoric rise has been its focus on design. In June the company won four awards at the International Design Excellence Awards, a programme part-sponsored by the Industrial Designers Society of America. The company’s handsets are designed by One and Co in San Francisco, a firm that had previously created the first Amazon Kindle and several high-end computer mice. HTC bought One and Co in 2009 following its work on the HTC Touch Diamond, the first HTC handset to really make the mark.
Design is at the very fundament of HTC’s continued success. Scott Croyle, HTC’s vice president of design, evangelises about the company’s annual design summit, recently held in Shanghai. “Since we’re not thinking about just one product at a time, we need a design language. Are we doing a good job of capturing that HTC brand – if you took the HTC logo off one of our products, would you still know it’s HTC? We think about all the elements to make sure it’s recognisable.”
This annual brainstorming programme is where a lot of the initial kernels of ideas come from. “We talk about style,” Croyle says, “And what lines are going to define the next products. When we get as far as the first engineering build, that’s when we start getting excited, when we put the software on to it and see how our ideas are working out.”
Claude Zellweger, principal and design director at One and Co, is more circumspect: “We can still fail a lot at this stage – we have to not love our ideas too much.”
Design is important, but does it actually sell phones? Well, it seems to. Arguably the best phone designs come from two companies, Apple and HTC, and both are highly successful, despite both currently embroiled in a dispute over patents. Croyle says the design comes down to one thing: “We’re always asking, what makes a phone something you want to pick up and hold?”
Zellweger agrees, though he recognises the importance of building in features, from GPS to camera functions, music player to voice control. As he says, “You have to live in the future, when you’re designing technology.”