The HTC First is the second big-name phone in just weeks for a company struggling to sell a single message
In our little blogging world here, cries of "First!" are all too common among commenters looking to make a name for themselves by being the first to spam the comments. So you can forgive us if the name itself immediately leaves a bad taste in our mouths.
When the design of the phone as well as its name leaked the day before Facebook's event, you couldn't help but wonder. "First" what? First Facebook phone? Are we stating the obvious? Or is that alliteration gone bad?
It was AT&T's Ralph de la Vega who probably said it best: "The first Facebook Home-optimized phone in the world."
And I worry that it has HTC's name on it at all.
That's not to say HTC doesn't need to strut its stuff. Quite the contrary. See, in another life -- about a decade ago -- HTC was a nameless ODM. A company that made products for other companies to brand and sell. The Palm Treo 750 that got me into this business? Guess who made that. HTC.
Starting around the time of the Windows Mobile-powered Touch Diamond, HTC began to assert its own branding. A (thankfully) skinned version of Microsoft's ancient embedded OS. Eventually, the "Quietly Brilliant" branding emerged, and it's a moniker that I still believe very much fits the company. But the meek shall not inherit the smartphone Earth. Samsung has seen to that. Apple has seen to that. And, indeed, it's time for HTC to change.
HTC was was supposed to reinvent itself with the HTC One line a year ago. It didn't. Instead, we got a muddied message that didn't live up to the worth of the product. Now we have a new HTC One, easily argued as one of the best Android smartphones we've ever seen, with the promise of a major marketing campaign. I'm told that should start any day now -- anyone catch the full-page ad in the back of the Wall Street Journal's A section on Thursday? "Time after time, HTC has been first," it reads, with a time line of achievements running all six columns, the whole way down. (It was a good ad, I think, though. More about the HTC brand than any one device.)
And still I'm torn over the HTC First. Never mind that confusing smartphone name. We're used to those. But "HTC First" is simply too close to "HTC One." The circles don't really overlap -- they're two very different products -- but they're too close in name to be a good thing for HTC. The last thing needed by a company struggling to rebuild from a number of dismal financial quarters is more brand confusion, and that's what we've got here.
Imagine walking into an AT&T store on April 12. It's going to be Abbott and Costello.
"I want that new HTC phone."
"The new one."
"The HTC One?"
"I don't know. The Facebook one."
"Oh. The HTC First."
"No, the one with Facebook."
That's if the word "HTC" is uttered by the potential customer at all. More likely, it'll go something like this:
"I want that new Facebook phone."
And "HTC" may never enter the conversation. Point is, the same day the HTC One goes up for preorder on HTC -- and seven days before it's made available -- the HTC One, the phone the company's putting so much time and muscle and money behind -- sees the conversation switch to Facebook, and a mid-level phone with a funny name and a new way of doing things.
On the other hand, maybe it's much ado about nothing. HTC's in trying to rebuild its own brand has aligned itself with one of the largest and most important on the planet. So who cares if it's One or First, so long as you spell HTC right.