TAIPEI (Taiwan News): Stroll through HTC’s large monolithic office in Xindian, and there are two entries: one for Googlers and the other for HTC staff.
Google invested $ 30.5 billion (US $ 1.1 billion) in HTC in 2017 as a way to effectively buy its ODM design team and access the OEM supply chain. After all, while HTC had the institutional knowledge to create fantastic phones (in 2011 it was fighting both Samsung and Apple in the US), its market share at that time in North America had dropped well below 1 % according to StatCounter.
At the time, HTC said the Google revenue would be used to invest in virtual reality (VR) that was still in its infancy.
It’s moving fast to this day, and that’s all that’s left of HTC. On paper, HTC continues to make phones; announced the Desire 21 Pro 5G in January, but is no longer registered on StatCounter’s radar, as the share of the global smartphone market has fallen well below 0.01%.
Instead, aggressive Chinese brands like Oppo and Vivo have reached the bottom end of the market while Huawei and Xiaomi fight for the middle. Even Asus, known only as a PC maker when HTC was in full swing, is experiencing an extraordinary boost with its Zenfone range.
What was once HTC’s mobile phone business is now the army behind Google’s Pixel. Meanwhile, the company also has its Vive team for its VR foray.
For HTC, virtual reality is complicated. On the one hand, there is a lot of praise for virtual reality (on the PC), such as developer Cix Liv, who in July tweeted that “PC VR is dead,” citing depressing figures from the Steam digital game store which show that only 2% of gamers have a VR headset connected to their PC. In the thread, other developers understood that it was no longer profitable to develop for PC VR given its state of the art niche.
Instead, the developers argued that autonomous virtual reality and all in one was the future. There is a lot of evidence that it is a means to success.
On the other hand, all the available data from market research groups like International Data Corporation show that there is a lot of space in the market for PC VR, but not just for games.
“Cases of virtual reality commercial use continue to proliferate,” said Tom Mainelli, one of its research vice presidents. “As companies continue to plan for a future that includes a combination of face-to-face and remote work, we see virtual reality playing an increasingly important role in next-generation digital collaboration, training, and events.”
HTC seems to have a comfortable position in this field. The Vive Pro 2 is almost universally well reviewed and includes warnings included that it is intended for professionals and not for gamers. HTC’s own website differentiates its training from being marketed as “high-end VR” and not as entry-level, as with Oculus ’Quest.
However, the question remains whether these two doors are enough to keep the company going. Its published monthly revenue for the year (a peculiarity of listed companies in Taiwan) has been sporadic, with gains in product launches or sales falling immediately thereafter. Their quarterly reports show that the company actually makes a lot more money by investing the surplus cash left over from its glory days and the Google deal than manufacturing products.
These quarterly statements also show that it is becoming a disciplined company, focused solely on these two doors. If Google’s long-awaited Pixel 6 were a success and PC VR would find its right niche as a commercial product, then HTC will continue to survive–but they do not quite prosper.