You’ve heard? Google made away with half of HTC, the Taiwanese company credited with some of the most notable and inspiring smartphone designs in the world over the years.
For $1.1 billion, Google was able to buy out the team that has, for some time now, been working on its Pixel smartphone. Yes, Google got into the phone-making business last year. Since it did not have a mobile hardware division of its own, it got its longtime partner HTC to do the dirty work of manufacturing while its people were engaged in the design and the deep hardware-software integration that Google promises on its devices.
While the acquisition of what amounts to half of HTC doesn’t mean the end of the road for the company (if anything, it is getting some much-needed cash) just like Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s mobile division didn’t mean the death of the famed Finnish company, it’s still an interesting chapter in the history of mobile computing. One that we are likely to keep revisiting should Google’s forays into mobile hardware pay off handsomely and not go the way of Motorola (which Google used to own but sold off to Lenovo after two years of not turning a profit).
Even though HTC’s device lineup today features its new U lineup, it has a had a blast in the past. At one time, before the tide turned against it thanks to the rise of Samsung, the coming of age of Android and its terrible marketing, HTC was the number one maker of Android devices. Here’s a peek at some of the fond and not-so-fond memories of the company as seen through the small lens of some of the products it has released over the years:
Saturday, September 23rd, 2017 would have passed for any other ordinary day. And indeed it was until it hit me that something extraordinary had happened on such a day way back in 2008. 9 years ago! On that day, Android, then an unknown underling that couldn’t hold a candle to Windows Mobile, PalmOS, Symbian and the new iPhone with its new touch-based app-reliant operating system and other giants from that era, launched. For early iPhone users, moreso tech journalists, the software on the Dream was a mere copycat of what they had gotten used to seeing on the iPhone. The Dream’s hardware, though, begged to differ.
But there was little to make of Google and HTC’s first effort that would mark the beginning of a partnership that would see Google turn to HTC from time to time in its various mobile ventures and, as we know today, even buy off an entire team to help it make its own phones inhouse. With the iPhone 3G, Motorola RAZR, Nokia E71 and several BlackBerrys being the top devices, the HTC Dream’s early days in the market couldn’t have been any tougher. Yet it survived and, here we are! You’re reading this on a site wholly dedicated to cover what the Dream started, albeit with a local twist and context.
Google Nexus One
Google probably wouldn’t be spending over $1 billion if the Nexus One hadn’t existed. Long before Android became the juggernaut that it is today, Google didn’t have what it takes to design and manufacture its own devices. It outsourced all that to HTC for its first Nexus-branded smartphone. The end result was the Nexus One, which was being referred internally (at HTC) as HTC Passion. Passion indeed.
I hope this video bathes you in all the nostalgia:
Long before Android tablets became a thing, HTC had made one already, the HTC Flyer. To date, it is the only tablet that the company has made, marketed and sold as its own. Sure, HTC has made some gorgeous tablets for Google but those are Google’s. The Flyer will forever remain as the first HTC tablet and, as far as we have seen, the only one.
Hailed by many as a solid tablet with an impeccable design, the Flyer failed to fly and probably left a bad taste in the mouths of its makers hence the subsequent 6-year abstinence from the tablet market.
The Flyer’s failure was more an indictment of the maturity of the Android operating system at the time than the competence of HTC as a device maker. It was launched running a version of Android not tailored for use on tablets and as such, the 7-inch device was merely a blown up phone masquerading as a slate. The poor thing would receive an upgrade to Android Honeycomb, the only version of Android solely meant for tablets, but that was already too late. Its slide to the dark abyss of obsolescence had just started and there was no stopping.
HTC Butterfly J
Known elsewhere as the Droid DNA, this phone single-handedly made the end of the year 2012 awesome. It stole the thunder from every device with the first ever 1080p panel on a smartphone. It made the Samsung Galaxy Note II, then the cock of the walk, look old and past its sell-by date. The device’s 5-inch 440ppi display was heavenly. The red-coloured model was, for lack of a better word, sex!
HTC One (M7)
In 2013, if you did not have the Samsung Galaxy S4 then you had the HTC One. The device, codenamed M7, a tag that would be used to identify it for years to come thanks to HTC retaining the weird naming scheme, was every bit appealing. The Super LCD display was a good alternative to the AMOLEDs on Samsung devices while its signature front-facing dual speaker arrangement (christened BoomSound) was something we weren’t used to seeing. Couple that with the all-metal design and HTC had a winner.
However, as fate would have it, HTC’s miscalculations with the underwhelming “ultrapixel” camera and its low marketing budget that was unable to match Samsung’s big spend in marketing dollar for dollar, meant that the M7 remained an interesting piece of history and not much else.
Nothing epitomizes the fall of HTC than the failure of this device. The Facebook phone, as the HTC First came to be known thanks to HTC’s partnership with Facebook, was every bit an “okay” phone. So where did the rain start beating it? The software.
The Facebook pairing meant that the social network giant’s apps and what not needed to be prominent on the device. So HTC set out to build for us a Facebook phone. Only that it is not really what we asked for. We love Facebook, yes, but no one really wanted to have status updates flying all over their locks screen and their carefully assembled launchers being replaced with a dull offering from Facebook. As a result, the HTC First, the first of its name, would also mark the last serious attempt at a “Facebook phone” and, as if prophetically, the escalation of HTC’s woes in the industry where failure is always taken as a weakness.
Of course, with time, as can be seen in some of the product failures outlined above, HTC slid, lost its design guts, started copying Apple iPhones in design and, started making so many phones than we cared to keep up. Android Authority has an interesting view of the events.
What are your fond or not-so-fond memories of HTC?