In Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress, Taiwanese handset maker HTC yesterday gave us a glimpse of its new, lean-and-mean smartphone strategy, HTC One — a unified set of Android devices complete with features and services that it hopes will help bring it back into the thick of things.
One thing that was very absent, though, was the M word.
That M word, of course, is Microsoft. Microsoft has been a good partner to HTC in the past:
HTC was Microsoft’s choice when it first moved into mobile devices with handheld organisers; HTC made Microsoft’s very first smartphone; and in later years, HTC’s CEO Peter Chou managed to lure Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer to his first-ever appearance at this event. In the first line of Windows devices, five of the first nine were made by HTC.
But yesterday, you wouldn’t have known any of that.
Sales of Windows Phone devices — never mind how many HTC has sold specifically — have been at less than 5 percent globally in the last quarter, and by and large HTC’s story has been an Android one for the last couple of years.
So after the late-night press conference, I sat down with John Wang, chief marketing officer of HTC, to ask him about this. The question came after a long response he gave to how important One, based on a suite of Android devices, was to the company’s fightback strategy.
“Today, the news happened to be Android, but we have not given up on Windows Phone,” he promised.
However, it’s questionable how strong that commitment will be this year — a time when HTC, as we saw yesterday, is trying something new, and much more focused than what it has done up to now. Is there room for an exciting Windows Phone device in that strategy? To me, it sounds like HTC is pushing all of its strongest efforts to Android, not Microsoft’s platform:
“What you have seen today is HTC’s best work,” Wang told me.
One other detail I should point out: I am finishing this post while waiting for the Nokia press conference to start (update: my writeup of that is here). Nokia, this time last year, became a milestone partner of Microsoft’s, and is now committed to using the Windows Phone OS as the platform for its flagship smartphones. That agreement is not exclusive.
While picking up a coffee, I ran into one of Microsoft’s senior PR execs and we started to chat about talking to Microsoft people. His response?
“If what you want is Microsoft news, you’re in the right place,” he said. “Nokia’s news is our news.”
Those rumors that Microsoft and Nokia might actually combine to form one company may be just that, but in times like this you can see that such a step might just be a moot point.