Crouching Tiger

Crouching Tiger

Jon French, executive directive for the UK
Jon French, executive directive for the UK, Ireland and South Africa, HTC

In just one year handset manufacturer, HTC, has gone effortlessly from zero to 180 miles an hour. This fast moving device manufacturer made its first meaningful appearance in the mobile market in June 2009 with the HTC Hero, which went on to win countless awards for its innovative hardware design and user interface. It continues to pop out best of breed handsets, including the HTC HD2, Desire, Legend and new low-end smartphone, the Smart. Here, we talk to HTC’s executive director for the UK, Ireland and South Africa, Jon French, about the secret to this company’s success…

HTC is now almost a household name in the UK. Amongst the young, tech savvie and forward thinking, it stands alongside and sometimes ahead of the likes of Apple in the world of smartphones. Its rise has been meteoric, possibly the fastest market maker in the handset world since Apple launched the first iPhone, but with more possibilities.

Hidden Dragon

HTC designs devices on Microsoft Windows, Android and now Brew, but all with the HTC Sense user interface providing a clever, intuitive overlay to whatever is underneath. Those funky handset designs plus HTC Sense are what have made this company’s name so far, and a hefty marketing budget is helping push it even further.

 

French comments that the marketing budget for the HTC Desire, announced at Mobile World Congress last February, was 50% bigger than HTC’s largest marketing campaign to date at that time. He notes: “We have seen a significant increase in overall volumes in the UK. Towards the back end of last year we saw real growth, off the back of the HD2. The market really took off for us then. The Desire and Legend have assisted in that massively for us this year.”

Brand awareness has grown on a steep curve also, adds French: “Since I joined our spontaneous brand awareness has grown fivefold on the previous year. Yet I’ll be even more bullish, as that figure was pre-Desire launch, so that will be much bigger now.

“The real growth you see in brand awareness is when people start using your products, and getting a positive attitude towards your products; then you get viral awareness. I know we will have taken a quantum leap forward in our brand awareness since the Desire hit the market,” he remarks.

 

Fearless

The reason for this growth, states French, is HTC’s laser-sharp awareness of the consumer. “We’ve been talking about Sense for a year now. It would be easy to just talk about hardware, but the UI and experience is all about Sense. It’s about grouping friends and contacts around the way you want to interact with them.”

Each HTC phone contains hidden surprises, French states. For instance, HTC Sense means a device can tell if it is in a bag, where it will ring louder. “These are things people care about,” he says. “We’re not just talking about the one gigahertz processor, but the consumer message, making our device pertinent to people. Sense broadens our message and helps us demystify the benefits of Android and Windows Mobile for the end user.”

He continues: “With the HTC Desire, we’re seeing all that work on HTC Sense, demystifing the platform, putting what the phone can do into language people can understand, and putting the devices into people’s, coming together in store. I’ve invested a lot in live demo units and training so stores can adopt the handsets as their own. That’s where we are today.”

As to where the smartphone market is going, French says it is down to three factors: the savvy consumer; the growth of the low-end smartphone; and Android making a strong move into the corporate market.

 

Three Wars

He explains: “Looking at the adoption of smartphones in the UK, we are ahead of many European markets already. It will come down to how devices work and how they tailor themselves to what people want. We have an increasingly savvy consumer here now. There is the adoption of smartphones into different parts of the market, and a lot of products like the Samsung Tocco Lite and LG cookie at a great, low price point to give people an insight into smartphones.

“However, many of these low end devices are limited. I think sometimes the industry is a little bit patronising at this end of the market,” comments French. “End users are actually very demanding and want a top end experience whatever they pay. Any manufacturer that compromises on that experience is very short sighted; these people are educated, well researched consumers, and if you give them a good experience they are very loyal as well. You can’t look at this as a short term Christmas win; as an industry we have to take the longer term view.

“With the HTC Smart, we’re giving users a quality browsing and email experience, and tailored user experience, with the Sense UI on the Brew platform, which has enabled us to reach a low price point, but you’d never know that. It’s a 3G HSDPA device, the same as the Desire or Legend, giving the same experience as its big brothers, but at £99, or £15 per month on pre pay. We decided to bring a really un-patronising experience down to a lower price point, and what you’ll see going forward is the broader adoption of data services and those data services being tailored to that end of the market space.”

Finally, French points to the growth of Android: “We will also see Android moving more into the corporate space. We are already getting a lot of demand from corporates for our devices. People want phones they can use at weekends too, so I think we’ll see more growth in the business market for Android because of that, and the capability Android gives the business user,” concludes French.

 
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