HTC, Hima, and the launch day conundrum -
“If you’re an HTC fan, 2015 is going to blow your mind!”
So said Jeff Gordon, the company’s Senior Global Online Communications Manager, on Twitter this past New Year’s Eve. He didn’t stop there, though; Gordon continued by opining that “HTC’s 2015 roadmap will be our best ever–with some huge surprises that will blow you away.” He even went so far as to taunt a colleague at Samsung, saying that he was “…looking forward to great competition and grade A trolling in 2015.” (He does know a thing or two about good trolling.)
Do these sound like the words of a man whose company will be releasing a near photocopy of last year’s flagship device on March 1st at Mobile World Congress, making some tweaks to the camera and processor, and calling it a day? Hardly. HTC has been engaged in some desperate obfuscation these past few weeks — and I don’t use the word desperate derisively, but rather to highlight the fact that the company (like most OEMs) has been backed into a corner by several factors outside of its control, forcing it to take extreme measures if it wants any chance of surprising the world with its shiny new device(s) come launch day.
Makers of products sold at retail have an underlying conundrum to face each and every time they attempt to pull off a launch of a new item: if they want to continue selling the old product for as long as possible, without cannibalizing sales by revealing that a refresh is imminently due, they need to reveal the new thing as close to the start of intended sales as possible. That is to say, the goal for any manufacturer is to minimize the amount of time between launch day and release day, in order to avoid a lengthy lull in sales while consumers wait for the new one to become available.
We’ve seen this desire manifest itself time and again in the mobile industry, as OEMs announce that start of retail sales will begin a month, sometimes even two weeks, after the grand unveiling. In fact, the only instances in recent memory that we have seen a long delta of time between launch and release were when the company was entering a new product category, with only its competitors likely to suffer losses in sales as consumers bide their time, waiting for the company’s own product to hit the shelves. The most obvious example of this phenomenon was Apple’s launch of the original iPhone and, more recently, the Apple Watch; both products were unveiled almost half a year before sales were slated to begin, because the firm knew that it could count on months of buzz to create a pent up demand for these products that would peak just as they became available to buy.
But why did Apple need to do that? What’s the downside to waiting until the last minute to reveal your hand and turning launch interest into quick profit at retail? In a word: leaks. Products are not developed in a bubble, nor released into a vacuum; in reality, manufacturers need to work with many partners in order to pull off a successful launch, and with the addition of outside actors into the equation — like advertisers, marketing firms, cellular network operators, and developers — comes an added risk of the product being revealed to the world in a manner not carefully planned and intended by its creators.
Which brings us back to HTC and its Hima flagship, set to launch on March 1st (along with a smartwatch and upmarket Hima Ultra variant, apparently) and go on sale mere weeks later. Last year’s M8, which Hima is due to replace, actually hit retail on the very same day as it was announced, through certain channels in some markets. And unsurprisingly, M8 was heavily leaked prior to its launch, with all of the phones specs and color variants on display in the days and weeks leading up to the announcement. So this year, HTC pulled an old trick out of its hat, and repeated an ultimately unsuccessful, but better-than-nothing ploy it attempted with 2013’s M7: the company put the guts of the phone into a dummy case, and sent these decoys to its partners who needed access to it pre-launch.
Those of you who were disappointed that early leaks seemed to point to a ho-hum refresh — an M8s, as it were (to borrow from Apple’s off-year model nomenclature) — will be pleased to learn that all these in-the-wild photos and mocked-up case renders were indeed clever plants, and that the One M9 and its big brother look almost nothing like last year’s One M8. In fact, I’ll submit that while the two devices share similar design language (check out yesterday’s exclusive for a description), they look less like the M8 than the M8 looked like the M7; in other words, a pretty significant break from the past.
Does this sleight-of-hand on the part of HTC mean that they will pull off a totally leak-free launch? That’s unlikely; the specs have already been nearly completely leaked thanks to Bloomberg and certain Twitter accounts, and as more test devices hit other partners in their production-ready form, those will almost certainly make their way to leaking channels as well. Why? For the same reason that people always leak unannounced products entrusted to them: there’s a vicarious thrill in seeing a story you helped create travel around the world at lightening speed, blowing up all the publications and forums that you yourself frequent. It’s a powerful, intoxicating feeling, and one that will keep leakers in business for a long time to come.
Other HTC One (M9)/Hima stories in the news
- Exclusive: HTC One M9/Hima design details will distinguish it from the HTC One (M8)
- New design details bring the HTC One M9/Hima further into focus
- HTC One M9/Hima poses for a few glamour shots
- New rumor claims HTC One (M9), HTC smartwatch to be unveiled in March
- HTC sends out invites to March 1 MWC press event – utopia in progress