HTC hopes much-loved M8 will revive fortunes

HTC hopes much-loved M8 will revive fortunes
This photo taken on June 6, 2014 shows motorcyclists riding past a billboard showing the latest HTC M8 smartphone in Taipei.

TAIPEI - Once a star of the intensely competitive smartphone sector, Taiwan's HTC has seen its fortunes collapse in recent years - but the success of its latest model provides a glimmer of hope.

The company started out as a contract smartphone manufacturer for major foreign players including Microsoft and only began developing its own brand of handsets in 2006.

It quickly built up a loyal following as the first to use Google's Android operating system - now the most popular OS for mobile devices and adopted by global smartphone leader Samsung.

But from stellar performances in 2011, HTC has nosedived as Samsung, Apple and strong Chinese brands like Lenovo and Huawei surge ahead.

In the first quarter of this year, it posted a net loss of NT$1.88 billion (S$75million) while sales hit a five-year low of NT$33.1 billion (S$1.4 billion).

Now, though, there's a much-needed buzz around the brand once more, following the launch of the HTC One M8 handset in March.

"It's a mix of being genuinely functional, but also a real statement device," said Nic Healey of leading tech review site CNET.

"Something like the M8 is a real stand-out on the shelf."

Reviewers and consumers have praised the M8 for its high-quality design, with a brushed aluminium case, as well as powerful speakers and a dual-lens camera for special effects on photos.

The look and feel of HTC's on-screen menu system were previously criticised as over-complicated, but the M8 has improved the interface, says Healey.

Respected tech news site The Register described it as the "Alfa Romeo" of the smartphone world.

HTC would not comment on sales figures for the M8, but says it expects to swing back into profitability in the next quarterly results, doubling its revenues in the three months to June.

"We believe that we are on course for a strong 2014," said chief executive Peter Chou.

There was also a hint at a new collaboration with Microsoft at last week's Computex tech show in Taipei.

Mountain to Climb

"The M8 is selling fast across global markets," Sascha Pallenberg of technology consultancy Mobile Geeks told AFP.

"In terms of the build quality and the materials this is the most sophisticated phone on the market."

HTC took a leaf out of Apple's book by ensuring that the device was immediately available to consumers after its media launch in New York, London and Paris, rather than waiting to bring it to market, said Pallenberg.

Remedial action was urgently needed after HTC's global market share slumped from 8.8 per cent in 2011 to 4.6 per cent in 2012, according to data from market researchers IDC.

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