HTC hopes to break into new device category with RE camera, a GoPro alternative

It's not a smart watch, but HTC is making its first foray into wearable devices. The smartphone maker is releasing the RE camera, a small, portable camera that can capture still images or HD video and then sync with Android phones or iPhones to share the content.

HTC's RE camera

Although the launch of the RE camera represents a risky bet for HTC, since it's not known for its prowess outside of building smartphones, the company has lined up a strong set of partners to sell the camera, which will retail for $199. HTC said the RE will initially launch in the U.S. in November at and Best Buy, and through Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) stores. Curiously, Sprint (NYSE: S) is absent from the list, even though Sprint and HTC are longtime partners. HTC said the RE will come to other countries soon after the U.S. launch.

The RE camera, which looks like a tiny periscope, has some intuitive features. The RE does not have built-in cellular capabilities but has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as an 8 GB microSD card and the ability to add in a larger memory card for up to 128 GB of storage. The device has a built-in grip sensor that instantly activates the camera as soon as it's picked up, eliminating the need for a power button.

The gadget has a tactile shutter button that captures still photos with a single tap and videos with a longer press (users can stop the video capture by stopping the long press). The RE has a 16-megapixel CMOS sensor and a 146-degree wide-angle lens, and captures 1080 HD video. RE also lets users take slow-motion and time-lapse recordings. Additionally, the gadget is water resistant in up to a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. Customers can also buy accessories for the RE that let them clip the camera to bikes, backpacks or to a headband.

RE interacts with smartphones through the RE application, which users will be able to download through Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) App Store or Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Play. The app lets users sync photos, videos and time-lapse recordings over Wi-Fi.

In an interview with FierceWireless, Jason Mackenzie, HTC's president for the Americas, said that users are capturing and sharing more of their daily lives but that if they do so with their smartphones the experience "forces you to live moments behind the four- or five-inch display" of a phone. He said GoPro had solved that problem for extreme sports enthusiasts but not for normal, everyday experiences. "We think the target (for the RE) is that young parent who is trying to capture all their kids' events," he said.

"We saw a massive opportunity," he said, adding that the RE does not force users "to have to make a decision about whether to capture the moment or live in the moment."

HTC Chairwoman Cher Wang agreed, telling the Wall Street Journal: "I think the young people will love it. They can just hold it in their hand for when they go shopping or dating. You don't want to hold a GoPro when you go dating or go to a party. Also grandparents can use it, it's so easy. And kids can use it. It's for everyone."

Mackenzie said that HTC is trying to ride the wave of connected devices, and the RE camera allows the company to put its technology and products into more customers' hands. The goal, he said, is to get customers to consider an HTC phone when they are making their next phone purchase.

The RE is part of HTC's efforts to rekindle interest in its brand. According to research firm comScore, HTC was the fifth-largest smartphone maker in the U.S. in August with 4.5 percent market share--down 0.6 percentage points from May.

Mackenzie acknowledged that the RE camera is a new market for HTC, but that what the company has done well over its history is be part of new things--it produced the first Android phone, for example. "People expect innovation and we think this fits right in line with HTC," he said.

Mackenzie also noted that phones are not the center of attention at carrier retail stores anymore, and accessories and other connected devices are coming to the fore. However, GoPro is a more established brand, and as The Verge notes, HTC will have to compete with the $200 GoPro Hero3 as well as the basic $130 GoPro Hero, which does not have Wi-Fi.

In other HTC announcements, AT&T will launch the company's new Desire Eye smartphone in early November. HTC and AT&T did not provide pricing for the phone but it is expected to be a mid-range device that undercuts phones like the iPhone 6 by around $100. The device's main differentiator is that it will have a 13-megapixel front-facing camera with a wide-angle lens, designed for taking selfies, in addition to a 13-megapixel rear camera. Additionally, thanks to software called the HTC Eye experience, the phone will track users' faces while they make a video call in order to keep them in focus even if they are moving around a room. The software can do that for up to four people and Mackenzie said it could be a very useful application for enterprise users conducting video calls on their phones.

For more:
- see this release
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Reuters article
- see this Re/code article
- see these two separate CNET articles
- see these two separate The Verge articles

Related Articles:
HTC places smart watch plans on hold as it refines product
Report: HTC still working on a smart watch, plans to debut it early next year
HTC wants to fill a 'huge gap' at the high end with One M8 for Windows Phone
HTC charges back to profit in Q2 thanks to One M8 and mid-range phones
HTC reportedly building Nexus 9 tablet with LTE for Q4 release