Director of Products, HTC, MEA: “Elements of the ecosystem need to work cohesively”

Doran Davies, Director of Products, HTC, Middle East and Africa is speaking on the subject of evolving data consumption habits at the Broadband MEA conference, which took place on the 19th-20th, March 2013 at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel, Dubai, UAE. We caught up with him to find out more about his thoughts regarding the handset market.

How would you summarize the ways the handset market has evolved over the past five years?

The mobile phone market has evolved drastically over the last five years in ways we would never have imagined; smartphones now out-sell traditional feature phones. People are using their smartphones as their primary entry point to the internet and social networks, as Mark Zuckerberg confirmed when he said “In 2012, we connected over a billion people and became a mobile company.”

The proliferation of mobile broadband has certainly supported this growth. However, sometimes we tend to put too much emphasis on the importance of social networks as the only consumer need. For years, mobile manufacturers have developed smartphones to cater to all needs, from music players to cameras and navigation devices. The primary focus has been on adding features as opposed to delivering relevant and meaningful experiences to consumers. This race to satisfy needs by implementing more features has resulted in far too many compromises. At HTC, we recognise the importance of developing relevant and simple experiences that deliver something that is truly useful, as opposed to merely adding another feature tickbox.

For example, cameras have been integrated into mobile phones since 2002, but the focus has been on megapixels rather than quality. With the new HTC One, we have broken this mould to deliver a camera that really focuses on what really matters – image quality.

For years content has been shared and accessed on smartphones and it’s becoming more varied, more personal and of higher quality. Approximately one trillion pieces of content were generated last year, which means that the mobile industry needs to rethink the notion of user experience in order to adapt to this. This challenge is solved by radically re-thinking the traditional application-centric view of a mobile phone.

How can you best differentiate yourself from the competition also running a licensed OS?

HTC has some of the best engineers in the world with over 16 years of experience in delivering breakthrough form factors and industrial designs and we can now craft phones out of blocks of metal.

In terms of software we push the boundaries of innovation. An open OS gives HTC a unique platform to innovate. We’ve added our very own touch to the entire user experience through HTC Sense.  It’s an interface that delivers an intuitive user experience; a layer on top of existing operating systems such as Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows. So while Google and Microsoft concentrate on creating services and APIs that enable things such as email and web browsing, it lets us focus on the top layer of the user experience. This is where we can bring the most value.

Our experience in working with Microsoft and Google means that we are able to deliver some truly unique experiences that match what consumers actually want.  For example, take HTC BlinkFeed. Our research shows that on average consumers look at their mobile phone screen 120 times a day, which led us to design a feed that curates information and content from over 1,500+ content partners globally into a live, customised stream of information.

This ensures that the intrinsic consumer need of wanting to be connected, up-to-date and entertained is satisfied, right on the home-screen. No-one else is doing this; we are the mobile industry’s trailblazers in this regard.

Does LTE provide you with new opportunities to boost handset sales?

I don’t think one can do without the other. The elements of the ecosystem need to work cohesively in order to deliver a product or service. The smartphone market in 2013 will be more competitive than ever. Players will look to boost their smartphone shipments this year, focusing on high-end phones that run on fourth-generation, Long Term Evolution networks. As the first manufacturer to bring the first 4G-enabled smartphone, the HTC EVO 4G, to the global market, we see this as a positive development.

Consumers and their behaviour toward smartphone usage is becoming more sophisticated and we’ve also seen Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) ramping up their infrastructure to accommodate the on-demand services of consumers.

LTE is a difficult value proposition to communicate to consumers. For years the industry has been talking about mobile broadband; since 2001 and first commercial launch of 3G services the industry has been talking about ‘speed’. This needs to change and translate into something of value to consumers.

At HTC, we’ve been working with mobile operators to deliver 4G/LTE smartphones and services since 2010. Given our experience and expertise, we are keen on sharing and imparting our knowledge to various industry players through a collaborative approach that delivers real, tangible consumer benefits. The need of the hour is to look beyond the inherent benefits of speed, to deliver a superlative experience through innovative products and services.

What differences do you see in what customers are looking for in their handsets in different regions?

Irrespective of where you go, there are some very interesting smartphone behaviour trends. The smartphone consumer is sophisticated and adventurous, while at the same time pragmatic and keen to make informed choices. He looks to his smartphone as a window to the world that enables him to be connected what goes on around him.

Smartphones have gone beyond the realms of a mere enabler; they are no longer just about keeping in touch or being a source of passive entertainment. The smartphone today is a wallet, or a source of information and entertainment. This is just a taste of what the smartphone has become, and as we move ahead, consumers will find increasingly innovative ways of using their phones. To complement this, manufacturers such as HTC will continue to delve deeper into customer behaviour, to provide features that complement their lifestyles.

Having interactions that are local, personalised and relevant is important, which is why we have developed BlinkFeed. This pushes content to the consumer as and when they want it, on a real time basis.

A few years ago HTC flew the flag for Android handsets but recently has seen other manufacturers take the sales lead. Is it important to be number one for that OS and what’s your strategy for regaining consumer mindshare?

If you ask Peter Chou what defines HTC best, he’ll tell you that we are an innovative company. Innovation has always been our hallmark; it has and will continue to define us, and it resonates well with our customers.

We have internal measures that map customer loyalty and the propensity of customers to recommend an HTC product, which for me is reflective of HTC’s health. Having seen these scores, I’m encouraged by the loyal base of customers we’ve garnered in the Middle East. Given our renewed focus on the MEA region as a whole, we are optimistic that we will continue to acquire more HTC customers by providing them with a differentiated experience.

You’ve got a positive reputation for doing better supporting your phones with updates than your competition. Will you be continuing this strategy?

Of course. We always listen to our customers, they love our innovations and new developments, and we take delight in making them available to as many of our customers as possible.

Aside from the latest HTC handset, what tech do you never leave home without?

This sounds like a cliché, but my smartphone is an irreplaceable bit of tech; my smartphone is deeply ingrained in everything I do regardless of where I am. I’m one of the two out of three people who use their smartphones while watching television, and I use my HTC smartphone to surf the internet, check and reply to e-mail, and even more.

The Broadband MEA conference is taking place on the 19th-20th March 2013 at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel, Dubai, UAE. Click here to find out more about the event

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