Are HTC’s new Windows 8 smartphones up to the task?

Today HTC threw its hat in the ring to be a premier Windows Phone 8 brand. Peter Cho, CEO joined Steve Balmer on stage in New York to unveil the first signature Windows 8 Phones, the 8X and 8S with Beats Audio support.

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Source: HTC

HTC is “utilizing a three dimensional, pure uni-body design based on the Windows Phone Live Tiles,” and is using Windows Phone branding as part of the actual smart phone names. The Windows Phone 8X and 8S each come in four colors (Nokia did something similar).

Like other smart phone brands before it, HTC is upping its camera capabilities on the 8X by including a 2.1 mega-pixel, f/2.0 aperture, 88° ultra-wide angle front-facing camera with 1080p video support, and a rear camera supporting 8 mega-pixels, backside-illumination for low-light scenes, f/2.0 aperture, 28mm lens and a dedicated imaging chip.

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Source: HTC

These new Windows 8 phones also support Beats Audio, which is becoming the standard for many mobile platforms today. They sport a 4.3-inch HD-resolution display with Gorilla Glass 2 on the 8X and a 4-inch display with Gorilla Glass on the 8S. Both smart phones will be available in November.

Years ago HTC was a major contract manufacturer for many large PC and mobile brands. It then emerged as a premier Taiwan brand and then successfully expanded overseas. It has always, through its OEM efforts as well as its own brands, supported multiple smart phone operating systems. It was an early supporter and share leader of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile OS and therefore this big push into Windows 8 Phone was expected.

HTC was also the first supporter of Google’s Android smart phone OS and was a market share leader. But it lost out when Samsung grew to prominence in the space. It has not refreshed its designs enough, and Apple hit it this year temporarily blocking US imports due to patent infringement claims. This has all led to a drag on HTC’s earnings as it posted disappointing second quarter earnings in July, watching profits drop 58%.

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Source: HTC

The question going forward is can HTC innovate more around design enough to stand out in both OS camps ─ enough to differentiate itself from Nokia and others in the Windows 8 Phone camp; and enough on Android to compete with Samsung and Motorola and keep the heat off from Apple?

Both HTC and Microsoft have a long road ahead to market Windows 8 Phone in a market dominated by iPhone and Android. Still, US carriers are looking for a strong 3rd alternative platform for their retail and online stores.

The two companies are collaborating together on marketing efforts and it represents “the single biggest marketing collaboration we’ve ever done” according to Jason Mackenzie, president of HTC Americas.

The challenge for HTC is to articulate the benefits that the 8X and 8S bring to the market, position them successfully against other W8 Phone offerings, and price them accordingly so that people buy them when walking into stores in Q4. And help HTC turn its profits and market share in the right direction. That’s a tall order if HTC expects the tide to turn in the most important quarter of the year that is ahead of us.

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