HTC has made plenty of accessories in the past, but it has never really been an “accessory maker.” Similarly, the Taiwan-based smartphone maker has a long and storied history of building terrific software experiences, but it has never been a “software company.” Now, things are changing.
On the heels of the release of its most beautiful and capable smartphone in the company’s history, HTC reported second-quarter revenue that continued to decline. The company’s high-end Desire phones have also been selling well, but HTC’s return to profitability is thanks largely to its cost-cutting efforts over the past few quarters.
Something has to change.
HTC continues to focus mainly on refining its smartphone lineup, but phones will no longer be the only business that matters at HTC. The company is now starting to dabble outside of phones, and is working on some unique apps — including its first stand-alone iOS app, Zoe, which will launch this fall after the Android version exits beta on Wednesday.
On the hardware side of things, the new RE is HTC’s first attempt at a truly unique and useful accessory that will draw new eyes to the HTC brand.
The proliferation of smartphones with capable cameras has caused a complete collapse in low-end standalone digital camera sales. Still, there are plenty of substantial segments in the camera market, including the rugged action cams that GoPro has popularized.
There may also be a new opportunity for cameras that act as an extension of the smartphone.
HTC’s new RE camera is just that, an extension of a smartphone. The always-on device can be pulled out of a pocket in a moment and is instantly ready to capture either a photo or a video. Operating the device is done with just one button; tap the button to capture a photo or hold it to capture a video.
The RE connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and media captured with the device are stored locally on a microSD card, but also transferred automatically to a connected smartphone. This makes sharing photos and videos on Facebook or elsewhere very easy.
But why should you use a separate device to take photos and videos?
This is an important question, especially considering the RE’s hefty $199 price tag. The answer, for most consumers, will likely be you shouldn’t. But for a small group of users — a small group that HTC hopes will grow — a camera accessory like this might really fill a gap.
The ease of access and speed with which photos can be captured is a big draw. The quality is also markedly better than most smartphones. The device features a 16-megapixel sensor with a 146-degree wide-angle lens. It’s also waterproof, which most phones are not, so it can safely go places you should never bring your smartphone. The RE’s 820 mAh battery can take 1,200 photos per charge, or record up to 1 hour and 40 minutes of continuous full HD video footage.
Also cool is the fact that people can use a connected smartphone as a remote viewfinder and shutter trigger for the RE camera.
The design and shape, while awkward, is very comfortable to hold and use. The position of the shutter button is also perfect for usage, though the whole concept is and will continue to be a bit bizarre for your subjects. Extending one’s arm and holding the RE like weird gun while capturing photos and videos doesn’t look or feel normal at all.
The RE camera is an interesting experiment for HTC, presuming the company plans to put some real marketing effort behind it. This device is something of a first for the market and it does not look or feel like anything consumers are familiar with. There is necessary eduction needed and a somewhat steep price tag to get past, so the task will not be easy.
HTC’s new RE will be compatible with handsets running Android 4.3 and later at launch, and a RE app for iOS 7 and later will also be made available at some point close to the RE’s release.
The RE camera will begin rolling out in late October in the United States, and will be available for purchase from Best Buy, Amazon and other retailers.