Once the largest smartphone vendor in the U.S. by shipments back in 2011, HTC is expected to fall below 2% of global smartphone market share this year. To turn things around, the Taiwan-based electronics company is demoting current CEO Peter Chouand replacing him with cofounder Cher Wang. As the new CEO, Wang will help chart a course out of the stormy smartphone waters by building up HTC’s connected device business, including wearables and virtual reality products.
HTC has been unable to compete with Apple and Samsung’s domination of the supply chain—domination that has helped the titans corner the high-end market. (In fact, HTC was forced to delay the launch of its HTC One phone due to supply problems.) Meanwhile, upstart phone maker Xiaomi has spent the last few years carving out the low-end smartphone phone market. With HTC’s marketshare squeezed at both ends, the company is well aware of the stakes. Even back in 2013, Chou staked his job on the success or failure of the One, vowing to step down if it didn’t sell well. The One M8 entered a crowded market and didn’t sell well enough, and Chou has now been replaced. So HTC is venturing into a new frontier: connected devices.
In the first months of 2015, HTC has made a number of aggressive moves in the wearables space. A recent partnership with Under Armour was just the first foray into a company-wide commitment in wearable tech,reports The Verge. HTC is hoping an ecosystem of wearables will boost its GPS-equipped HTC Grip fitness band in the Fitbit-dominated health tracker market. Then there is the hotly anticipated HTC Vive 3-D headset, in development with gaming giant Valve, which HTC is not afraid to price high as a luxury item. Marketing head Jeff Gattis told PC Gamer, “Starting with the premium experience, even if it has a slightly higher price point, is the right thing to do from a strategic point of view. The price can always come down as the market grows. We know there is some pent-up demand there, so there’s not so much price sensitivity early on.”
High-end pricing is not completely new territory for HTC: The company played the luxury digital accessory game with Beats. But as The Verge smartly points out in its analysis of HTC’s CEO shake-up, HTC’s problem is not that its phones have sucked. The problem is that the company can’t market its way out of a corner, to change the story that its phones don’t suck. HTC will have to hone its marketing game to tell a sharper story as the company pivots away from its rocky mobile-only past.
So who is new CEO Wang? She cofounded HTC with Chou in 1997. Fast Companynamed her one of the most influential women in technology in 2011, and Forbesranked her No. 54 on its 2014 list of the world’s most powerful women. Wang’s husband heads Via Technologies, a chipset maker that is part of Formosa Plastics Group, the company Wang’s father created.
In an HTC statement about the news on Friday, Wang said of the company’s new emphasis on wearables: “The overwhelming response that our virtual reality product, HTC Vive, received earlier this month underlines the importance of these new connected technologies for our future. As an entrepreneur at heart, I am excited to see so many new opportunities, and I am honoured to accept this opportunity to help shape the next stage of HTC’s development.”