Your turn, HTC: Why the M8 could be company's swan song

HTC is already an also-ran in the Android marketplace – it needs the M8 to avoid becoming a non-entity.

The HTC One was one of the best-reviewed smartphones of 2013, garnering numerous accolades and winning a number of awards, including the MWC Smartphone of the Year. But it didn't really do much to raise the sinking trajectory of its manufacturer – who's now teetering on the brink of irrelevance.

It wasn’t always thus, of course – HTC used to be one of the biggest brands in the smartphone market, and the Taiwan-based company was the first to bring a commercial Android device to market. These days, however, HTC is an also-ran in terms of market share. A study performed by the NPD Group recently found that fewer than 10% of U.S. smartphone users owned an HTC phone, compared to more than 40% for Apple and 26% for Samsung.

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There are a lot of well-known reasons why HTC, despite its early leadership and some standout devices like the HTC One, has dropped off so precipitously, including poor branding, shipping delays, and unfavorable carrier exclusivity deals in the U.S. The One was the first flagship from HTC in some time to be available on all the major U.S. networks, but the aforementioned delays caused it to hit the market well after Samsung’s rival Galaxy S 4.

Essentially, the HTC One’s apparent successor, the M8 – due to be revealed March 25 – needs to address almost all of the issues that slowed down sales of the original phone. It’s already going to be released later than the just-announced Samsung Galaxy S 5, so HTC has to find ways to build on the critical success of the One and turn that into more tangible results for the M8.

If HTC can’t do that, it risks a slide into BlackBerry-esque dire straits.

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Privacy was top-of-mind for Android-watchers this week, as two somewhat unusual OEMs independently made news with security-focused phones. Blackphone, made by a partnership between Spanish manufacturer Geeksphone and encryption specialists Silent Circle, got rolled out into pre-order availability at the Mobile World Congress, and defense contractor Boeing announced its own device, named simply Black.

They’re very different devices, of course, but it’s interesting to compare the two. The Blackphone is clearly being marketed to the privacy-conscious in the general public, while the Black is meant for the exact people that the privacy-conscious are most worried about – the U.S. government.

(H/T: TheNextWeb)

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Google’s enthusiasm for the modular smartphone concept led it to hold Project Ara back when it sold off Motorola Mobility to Lenovo earlier this year, and the news that the Goog is planning a developer conference for this April has drawn a lot of ink.

It seems intensely pie-in-the-sky at this point – requiring, as it will, a rethink of pretty much every aspect of the smartphone business model – but that’s never stopped Google before. The idea of a smartphone chassis that you simply plug the desired modules into, instead of purchasing as a unified and unchangeable unit, is an intriguing one.

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Doing tech demos has to be a nerve-wracking business – the embarrassment if something goes wrong, I imagine, is pretty intense. So I feel for Archos CEO Loic Poirier, who had this happen to him.

C’est tres embarrassant. (I think is how you say that, anyway.)

But look on the bright side, Loic, this can happen to the best of them.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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