Smartphone developer HTC’s search for a sustainable business outside hyper-competitive conventional handsets is expanding again. The Taiwanese manufacturer once reliant almost exclusively on mainstream Google Android phones is shooting for a strong image in the global selfie-centric handset market, which while a niche now is expected to grow. Success there would add to HTC’s increasingly broad portfolio of consumer electronics, from the RE model micro camera to a pair of tablets and probably a smart band.
The made-for-selfies market makes sense, and tech industry analysts normally skittish about HTC give it fair odds of taking a lead. Fascination for using the phone camera to shoot oneself started about a decade ago among the appearance-obsessed youth of Asia, the company’s base, and other continents are following with the rise of social media tools such as photo sharing app Instagram. On Oct. 8 the Asian developer launched its mid-range Desire EYE smartphone that’s tailored for selfies with an easy-to-focus front-facing camera and made for viewing them with a 5.2-inch screen.
“I think it’s a great idea,” says CK Lu, smartphone analyst with market research firm Gartner in Taipei. The Eye should help HTC expand its brand in the broader smartphone market, he adds. “Selfies started from Asia, they’re popular everywhere and that can expand HTC’s portfolio.”
Made-for-selfie handsets totaled 2% of all mobile phone shipments worldwide last year, Strategy Analytics of the United Kingdom estimates, calling it “a niche but growing segment.” Those handsets usually come with high-powered cameras or software making it easy to move images from handset to social media. More than half all mobile phones have the basic technical requirements to take selfies
Strategy Analytics calls HTC, Nokia and Sony the top selfie phone brands and cites the Android-based Eye model in particular. The Sony Xperia C3 handset comes with a 5MP front-facing camera, and Nokia’s Lumia 735 includes the same camera specs with a smart price of about $280. A ZenFone handset by Taipei-based Asustek Computer is built with a lens that helps gather more light, taking “more natural” images, Intel’s iQ blog notes.
“Selfies are here to stay in most countries of the world, because people like looking at other people, and selfies will eventually become normalized everyday activities for the Facebook generation as they grow up,” Strategy Analytics’ global wireless practice executive director Neil Mawston says.
HTC needs a sharper 2015 after sliding from a 2011 smartphone market share peak of 10.7% to less than 4% today, the demon behind its thin profits. It has declined as other brands crowd the field and innovation slows (everyone’s making basically the same thing). HTC also lags in marketing, particularly behind the world’s top Android smartphone seller Samsung Electronics. The company still known for its technical quality will gradually turn from smartphones to other personal electronics, industry experts believe.
HTC’s market share down cycle may repeat in the selfie-centric phone space without backup from marketing and enthusiastic sales channels, such as wireless carriers in major markets such as China and the United States. Otherwise its Android peers will just swamp it again.
“The entry barrier to perform well is not too high,” says Avril Wu, a senior manager with high-tech market research firm TrendForce in Taipei. “They are not necessarily stronger in (selfies) than other brands. I still stick with the sentiment that for HTC to grow they will need to work hard on their marketing as well as their relationships with carriers.”
This article was written by Ralph Jennings from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.