HTC Should Abandon Android And Embrace Firefox OS

Once mighty, the smartphone wars have badly weakened HTC, which continues to stumble, delaying product launches and issuing profit warnings. I do not expect the HTC One to mark any appreciable change in HTC’s fortunes. I propose a radical solution: embrace Firefox OS.

As we have documented since last year, Samsung so utterly dominates Android that it leaves little room for anyone else to succeed. After Samsung takes its oversized profit share, there are simply too few profits remaining for HTC and other Android members to survive.

Samsung will not destroy iPhone. Samsung could, however, destroy Android.

Samsung sucks up nearly all the profits of the Android handset market. This limits product roll-out, marketing and ongoing innovation from other ecosystem members. No profits, no business. Samsung is a threat to iPhone, no doubt, but in this case, it’s more a threat to Google and its vision for Android.

Google will not come to HTC’s rescue. The news out of Google last week was that its chief, Andy Rubin, is out, replaced with the man behind Google Chrome. Consider that as a sign of which platform CEO Larry Page most values. Add to that the persistent rumors that Google’s Motorola division is working on a “X Phone” to take on Apple and Samsung, and Google’s long-term commitment to fostering platform partnerships is in doubt.

One of the first Android handset makers, HTC should be celebrating Android’s dominance. Except, it can’t. The 2012 smartphone sales numbers reveal that while Android currently leads the global smartphone market – with a 65% market share compared to Apple’s iOS at 20% — HTC placed no better than 8th, accounting for a meager 4.5% of all smartphone sales. Worse, HTC’s already low numbers are trending downward. Their sales share fell from 4.6% in Q3 2012 to a shockingly low 3.2% in Q4 2012 (including both Android and Windows Phone products). Android will not save HTC.

Neither, however, will Windows Phone. It’s innovative UI and ‘live tiles’ based operating system arrived too late — well after the ‘app phone’ became the global standard. As of Q4 2012, the Windows Phone share of the global smartphone market sits at a laughable 2%. Of this, Nokia accounted for 77% of all Windows Phone sales. Samsung accounted for 11%. HTC came in third, garnering a meager 10% of the already meager Windows Phone sales.

HTC can’t rely on Android, nor on Windows Phone.

The company may claim that they are ready to “challenge” Apple and Samsung, but victory is unlikely. HTC simply can’t compete with Apple on product innovation. Nor can HTC compete with Samsung on scalability, manufacturing prowess or on marketing — they were reduced to trying to gin up interest in the HTC One by offering product demos outside of the Samsung Galaxy S4 launch event last week.

Likewise, I do not expect the HTC One to save them. The HTC One, while appearing to be a solid device that should be available on most larger carriers, almost certainly cannot compete with the iPhone 5 (or iPhone 6) nor the Samsung Galaxy S4 at the targeted high-end.

Where then can HTC turn for survival? I recommend the Firefox OS.

According to the non-profit Mozilla, which is responsible for the Firefox browser — and now the Firefox mobile OS — the Firefox OS is:

Built entirely using HTML5 and other open Web standards, (and) is free from the rules and restrictions of existing proprietary platforms.

No licensing costs.

At last month’s Mobile World Congress, Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs made his case for why Firefox OS could appeal to the ‘next billion smartphone users’:

I find it impossible to understand how 3, 4, 5, or 6 billion people are going to get their diverse needs satisfied by one or two or five companies, no matter how delicious those companies are.

Large potential market.

Perhaps it’s a long shot to jump ship to Firefox OS. However, it seems less a long shot than attempting to survive on the crumbs that Android offers them. There is much to be gained, however, by embracing Firefox.

With Firefox OS, HTC can promote true differentiation from Apple and Samsung (and Android), while still offering a platform that operates very similarly to both — full touchscreen, swipes and apps. That Firefox OS allows any web page to effectively be turned into an ‘app’ with minimal effort may also ensure that all popular websites and services develop for the platform. They will not face the problems that a Blackberry 10 is facing.

Firefox OS may also help HTC in China, the world’s largest smartphone market. Recently, the Chinese government decried the popularity of Android.

While the Android system is open source, the core technology and technology roadmap is strictly controlled by Google.

No doubt China will prefer ‘homegrown’ operating systems but anything that limits Android’s appeal should be welcome.

In a recent interview, HTC’s global president of sales summed up the company’s mission:

We will be a lot more aggressive in our communication. We need to take ownership of our innovations.

Living in the shadow of Apple and Samsung will not allow HTC to grow. Taking Google’s Android — on Google’s terms — will not allow HTC to “take ownership” of their innovation. They need something bold and new and different. Firefox OS is waiting.

Of course, should HTC follow this path there is always the possibility that giant Samsung will once again come in and overrun the competition. In this case, however, I think that is unlikely. For all Samsung’s work with multiple mobile operating systems, they are primarily focused on Android. Indeed, they spend more to advertise their Galaxy line — based on Android — than Apple spends on iPhone. In this case, differentiation favors HTC more than Samsung. Moreover, HTC should have learnt from past mistakes – if not, no OS will help them.

With Firefox OS, HTC can set itself apart, leverage a strong web brand, offer a potentially lucrative opportunity for developers, and develop a series of devices without expensive licensing costs. Or, they can continue down the path they are on — and get torn apart by Apple and Samsung on the high-end, by Google’s own Motorola and others in the middle, and a slew of others on the low-end. They have little other choice.

Author: Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about technology, immortality and food for ReadWrite, Techpinions, Unwired View and other publications. His thoughts on the 'smartphone wars' and how these are rapidly de-constructing markets, industries, business models and relationships around the world can be found on his personal site at www.brianshall.com.

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  • n

    Well are you high. I have been following FirefoxOS for a while now and believe it is not really worthy of anything. It is a very weak competitor for anything.

    Ubuntu OS may be ok to suggest though it is so primitive. but nothing denying itm Android is the best place to be for HTC.. Even mighty nokia is fumbling to make win phone work.. firefox browser is loosing support from ppl let alone its os ..

  • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

    Yes I’m high – and when was Nokia “mighty”?

  • Dion

    I tend to agree, but let’s wait six months, Firefox OS is still in its infancy

  • Joaquin Padilla Rivero

    Maybe when it controlled the huge majority of the smartphone sales numbers. You see, Nokia invented the smartphone. Don’t take my word for it, but Tomi Ahonen’s.

  • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

    If Tomi Ahonen says it, then it be true.

  • vtwkang

    I wonder whether consumers will appreciate differentiation. After all, the two dominant OSes are iOS and Android, and Android emulates iOS in many ways. Similarly, the two dominant smartphone manufacturers are Apple and Samsung, and Samsung has also emulated Apple in many ways. Windows Phone has tried to be different, without success.

    But as you said, HTC can only engage in long shots at this stage. It has no good options left.

  • Joaquin Padilla Rivero

    Well, fellow’s been in the mobile industry for quite a long while. He was in Nokia, tasked with forecasting market tendencies and hitting a good share of predictions. He’s seen Nokia rise and fall, so he might know. You, who seem to be yet another US-centric tech blogger, may not comprehend the full reach of Nokia. There was a time when 90% of the world owned a Nokia phone. Is that being mighty?

  • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

    Nokia mattered pre-smartphone, no doubt. Since the iPhone, however, they are increasingly irrelevant.

  • opteron opteron

    Worst of all, a smartphone experience is no longer just the OS. It requires an eco-system (OS, Cloud services, Apps, Music, location services etc…) to succeed and I don’t SEE that coming out of FireFox!!!

  • vasras

    No way to do hi-end phones with FFOS. No ecosystem. Apps are HTML5 (which is under construction and FFOS JS engine is slow).

    In effect, this would make HTC at best a mid-level or more likely a cheap phone mfg to mostly non-OECD markets.

    This would put the squarely against Nokia and all the cheap Indian and Chinese brands, against which they cannot compete.

    So, in short, no – not a good idea.

  • http://profiles.google.com/luismgz Luis Gonzalez

    You’re probably wrong here. By going full HTML5, they are aiming at millions of developers who already have the skills and the will.

  • Dererk Williams

    I’m always amazed at how short sighted people are with tech companies. HTC isn’t failing because of Samsung or Android. HTC is failing due to Customer Service and Product Support!! Customers ask for sd slots and better battery life; HTC doesn’t listen to either request. HTC puts out a phone, then stops supporting the phone (updates) 8 months later. This is why HTC is in trouble, not the might of Samsung. If you don’t give customers what they want, the customers will eventually get tired of waiting and go somewhere else. Supply and demand…very simple.

  • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

    Perhaps. No doubt HTC has shot itself in the foot. But, I don’t see how they best Apple or Samsung. Both those companies are dominating their respective platforms, making it nearly impossible for others to generate a profit. Businesses require profits.