HTC One, Android Zero

on February 19, 2013

Photo of HTC One (HTV

There was a word missing from HTC’s unveiling of its impressive new HTC One phone. HTC executives talked about the BlinkFeed streaming home screen, the redone Sense user interface, the BoomSound audio system, and the Zoe photo-plus-video app. But there was no mention of the phone’s Android software. Even on the One’s web page, you have to drill down to specs to learn that it runs Android.

This downplaying says a lot about the branding efforts of both HTC and Google. HTC, having come through a very rough patch that saw its market share and profits tumble, is anxious to relaunch itself as a premium smartphone provider. Talking about Android cannot do this; mentioning Android just makes it look like a provider of commodity hardware running commodity software.

So instead, HTC is promoting the One brand as well as the subbrand it has chosen for the proprietary apps and services that it hopes will distinguish itself from the Android pack. HTC isn’t alone. Samsung has established Galaxy as its premium brand and is spending heavily in both development and marketing to establish a unique hardware identity. About the only one promoting Android these days other than Google is Verizon, with its Droid franchise. (Probably not coincidentally, Verizon is the only one of the four major U.S. carriers not offering the HTC One.)

Of course the One does run Android (version 4.1.2, to be precise) and HTC, which doesn’t offer much in software beyond the apps it has developed for the One, needs the Android app ecosystem and the Google Play store to make the phone valuable to users. But HTC’s handling of the announcement makes it clear how much the brand value of Android has eroded even as its market share has grown. For Google, which seems to be struggling to find a way to make money off Android, that cannot be a good thing.