With HTC One, phone maker looks to find its focus

It’s hard to look at the HTC One—introduced at a Tuesday press event in New York—as anything but a Hail Mary.

Amid plummeting profits, HTC is clearly going all-out with this flagship smartphone. It’s not just about fancy specs—although the One has its fair share, including a 4.7-inch, 1080p display, a 1.7 GHz quad-core processor and an “UltraPixel” camera that supposedly excels at low-light photos and image stabilization. Rather, HTC’s approach seems to be about about making one killer phone that people might actually seek out, instead of a half-dozen just-OK ones.

HTC One

You can see that strategy in the phone’s design, which is cut from a slab of aluminum, and has holes for amplified stereo speakers on the top and bottom ends. You can see it in all the little features that HTC has added, like the dual microphones that detect ambient noise when you’re on a call, or the built-in infrared blaster that turns the phone into a remote control. You can see it in the redesigned Sense software, which ditches the hokeyness of past versions in favor of a minimal aesthetic.

But most of all, you can see it in the name—there will not be endless variants of the One in a feeble attempt to please all customers. This is it.

It’s a strategy that stands in sharp contrast to HTC’s past efforts. Last year, HTC didn’t come out with one high-end phone, but several devices with varying specs, screen sizes, and features, including the One X, One S and One V. In the United States, the lineup was even more fragmented, with phones like the Evo 4G LTE on Sprint and the Droid Incredible 4G LTE on Verizon.

Some of those phones were pretty decent, but the odds were stacked against them. Rival Samsung sold the Galaxy S III on every major wireless carrier and advertised the heck out of it. How could HTC grab any of the spotlight when every wireless carrier was selling a different version of its phones? It’s hard to pump up your own brand when you don’t have one killer device to hold above the rest.

The multi-phone strategy clearly wasn’t working for HTC, whose earnings have been spiraling downward for more than a year. Now, HTC says it’s going to focus on cheap smartphones for emerging markets in an attempt to restore profits.

The HTC One could be a final attempt to regain some traction. And it may have a shot, with AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile all promising to sell the phone in March. HTC is even offering up to $100 cash back to anyone who trades in an old phone for the One. As far as marketing efforts go, that’s a start.

We’ll still have to see how the actual phone performs in the real world, but it’s hard to find fault with HTC’s newfound strategy. Focusing on the One could be just what HTC needs to bounce back.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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