Android fans can be very fickle. While Apple fans dutifully line up every year or two to buy the newest iPhone, many hardcore Android fans are only loyal to the company that’s producing the best phone right now. Two years ago, HTC was the darling of these fans because its HTC One M7 was simply a beautiful premium phone that came out at a time when Samsung was still releasing devices marred by cheap-feeling plastic. Even one year ago, HTC was still in many Android fans’ good graces because the One M8 was a significant improvement over the M7 and was one of the very best smartphones to come out last year.
But then the HTC One M9 came out this year. And it was an epic disaster.
Here’s the thing about HTC: It was never going to get the kinds of massive sales numbers that Samsung has gotten over the years. The best it could hope for was to create a niche market of Android power users who love premium, stylishly designed hardware that delivers strong performance. It could only hold onto this market, however, if it delivered better hardware every year — but the One M9 was in some ways worse than the One M8.
The One M9’s camera was still very underwhelming, especially compared to the beautiful cameras being released by Samsung and LG. In fact, DXOMark ranks the One M9’s camera behind comparatively ancient phones such as the iPhone 4s and the Samsung Galaxy S III. Most cruelly, the One M9 even ranks behind Amazon’s notoriously bad Fire Phone in camera quality.
The One M9’s performance was also hurt by HTC’s decision to go with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 chipset, which Samsung wisely decided to avoid because of its major overheating issues. As third-party tests have shown the One M9 was particularly prone to throttling after getting too hot, which didn’t help to make its case with Android fans who expected consistent high-end performance.
HTC’s sales promptly crashed. In may 2015, HTC hauled in NT$10.8 billion in revenue in May 2015, or about USD$348 million. This was not only a 20.3% decline from the NT$13.5 billion in revenue the company posted in April, but a stunning 48.5% decline from the NT$21 billion the company reported in May 2014. These steep declines occurred just a month after HTC released its One M9.
So now HTC is back this week with its new “hero” product, the One A9. And sadly, it looks almost exactly like the iPhone 6s, which is not going to endear it to Android fans who are tired of hearing that Android phones are all just iPhone knockoffs.
This whole situation is sad because HTC has produced some of my favorite smartphones ever. Its One M series of devices all had distinctive, original designs that stood apart from the pack and were, to use the company’s catchphrase, quietly brilliant. Now it’s decided to just throw up its hands and make Android-powered iPhones.
If nothing else, this story goes to show just how tough it is being an Android smartphone manufacturer. One generation of substandard products is enough to send prospective buyers fleeing to Samsung, LG or OnePlus, and at this point it’s hard to imagine that the One A9 is going to bring any of those buyers back.