Published: 23 March, 2011
HTC has been expanding its horizons well beyond its roots as a white label handset maker. It has added the Sense user interface and various web services to its portfolio, and now plans a full content offering.
The company has appointed a chief content officer, Shashi Fernando, to spearhead a move to replicate Apple's vertically integrated model, with plans to open the inevitable app store and push into content. The strategy first emerged last year when HTC started hiring content editors and talking about a store. Then, last month, it acquired mobile video firm Saffron Digital, which also brought its founder, Fernando, into the fold.
The Taiwanese vendor looks set to create its own content as well as form a range of partnerships, and though Apple is the role model, it will also have an eye on Samsung's increasingly well stocked video shop and, of course, the wide range of items in Google's and Amazon's Android and ebook stores. HTC knows that, like the Sense UI, a recognizable content portfolio will reinforce its brand and enable it to differentiate devices that are running on fairly standard components and operating systems. As Amazon showed by opening its Android Appstore with a range of exclusive games and other products, one-off content - especially in gaming - will be an important differentiator in future.
At the CTIA Wireless show in Florida, HTC made a bigger splash than it did at Mobile World Congress. While the launch of its first tablet, Flyer, at the Barcelona show was low key, it made more impact with two additions to its EVO range for Sprint's WiMAX service. One year after the US got its first WiMAX/CDMA handset, the HTC EVO, a 3D version made its debut, with no need for special glasses. There was also the EVO View 4G, a tablet that can run on Wi-Fi, WiMAX or CDMA EV-DO Rev A.
HTC has learned a lesson from Apple, which basically stretched the iPhone user experience for the iPad. The same is true for the EVO tablet, which promises "to bring the best of the HTC EVO experience into a tablet design". This may not appeal to new customers in particular, but may persuade existing WiMAX subscribers to invest in another gadget.
The hardware specs are strong, with 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor, 32Gbytes of internal memory and the HTC Scribe digital pen technology for voice notes. However, the View runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), rather than Honeycomb, which is actually optimized for tablets and larger screens, though Sprint said it will push out an upgrade to Honeycomb as soon as possible. As Samsung found with its original, 7-inch Galaxy Tab, Android 2.x is functional on a smaller tablet display, so HTC has also stuck to 7-inches for this release, at least, and the resolution is good at 1024 x 600.
The EVO 3D has dual 5-megapixel cameras for capturing conventional and 3D video images and early reviews have been very positive. The phone runs on a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor with Android 2.3 and a 4.3-inch display (resolution 960 x 540 pixels). Google Voice is integrated, in line with Sprint's new alliance with the search giant to outdo Verizon's Skype partnership.
Samsung was also rejuvenating its tablet strategy at CTIA. The Korean giant took an early foothold in the nascent market by bringing out the 7-inch Galaxy Tab, admittedly a compromise device (Android 2.3 rather than Honeycomb, no AMOLED) but at least it established the Samsung brand in the public consciousness as the most likely alternative to the iPad. Now, though, the firm needs to follow through with genuine iPad challengers, and executives already hinted they needed to tweak their new models in the light of the better-than-expected specs of iPad 2. Samsung certainly stole all the limelight on day one of CTIA, on the device front, to give its new tablets maximum exposure. It will ship the products this summer - hopefully time for Google to address teething problems with Honeycomb, which have afflicted its first device, the Motorola Xoom. To add to the 7-inch Tab, there will be 8.9-inch and 10.1-inch variants, in line with the Korean's usual strategy of showering the market with many choices of designs to suit every user profile and taste.
The larger devices are more keenly priced than the first Tab or the Xoom, both coming in below the entry level iPad 2, at $469 for an 8.9-inch, Wi-Fi model with 16Gbytes, and $499 for the same product with the larger screen, which Samsung will target mainly at the business space.