HTC's Mackenzie: We're embracing our role as a challenger to Samsung, Apple

with Jason Mackenzie, HTC's global president of sales

Jason Mackenzie

with Jason Mackenzie, HTC's global president of sales

HTC is searching for a comeback. After selling 43.2 million phones in 2011, according to research firm Gartner, HTC saw sales slide in 2012 down to 32.1 million units amid intense competition from the likes of Samsung Electronics and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) at the high end and Huawei and ZTE at the lower end of the market. HTC is plotting a return to prominence on the back of the HTC One, the Taiwanese smartphone maker's latest flagship device. At the recent Mobile World Congress trade show, FierceWireless Editor Phil Goldstein talked with Jason Mackenzie, HTC's global president of sales, about the company's brand, the software features of the One and how the company can get its smartphone swagger back. The following is an edited version of the conversation.

FierceWireless: Why was it so important to put BlinkFeed at the heart of the HTC One?

Jason Mackenzie: The inspiration around BlinkFeed is that today there's no such thing as 30 seconds or two minutes of boredom. That 30-second awkward elevator ride you used to have doesn't exist anymore because everyone is in their phone. We came up with this term that we call "Generation Feed." There is this Generation Feed out there and they're constantly snacking on information, from their Facebook to Twitter to news.

So for those minutes of snacking, it's very simple. You turn it on and you're browsing through your information. There's over 140 branded content providers that we've done deals with. I can select which ones I'm interested in. I can swipe over and look at categories, so I can check on business and it'll feed me business news.

FierceWireless: People have said BlinkFeed is like Live Tiles on Windows Phone but more personalized from a content perspective.

Mackenzie: If what you mean is that there are squares on it, you're right. But Live Tiles on Windows is static information. They're widgets, essentially. What this is, is a newsfeed that's constantly updating. So every time I turn on my phone I can feed through it and I can get to the latest information. The phone is alive from that perspective. That's a big innovation that we think fits consumers. And then it's also a fantastic differentiator where, when you see this in ads and things, this is going to say HTC BlinkFeed.

FierceWireless: What else sets the One apart from the competition?

Mackenzie: How are people using their phones today? We centered that around four key areas. The first is BlinkFeed. The second thing is around sound. And again that speaks to how people are living. More and more, especially the younger generation, even 13-to-21 year-olds, their primary listening tool is their phone. That's how they're listening to music. A lot of times you see them on the bus, you see the kids walking down the halls in junior highs and high schools and they're playing it out of their speaker. The problem is that until now, all of those speakers have been in the butt of the device. So we've put two dual, front-facing speakers with an amplifier and paired that with Beats Audio. So that's BoomSound.

The third is we really looked at the camera experience. What we've done is we've thrown the megapixel out of the camera and we've coined this technology that we're calling UltraPixel. And essentially what it does is it allows 300 percent more light in the pixel than a traditional megapixel camera.

The fourth is Sense TV. In the U.S., 80 percent of people are either using their phone while they're watching TV or it's by their side. So with Sense TV, any TV provider can present you with programs. You're looking at real content that's on right now, and then the phone, based on what programs you like, it will recommend programs to you. Or you can filter and say, I'm just interested right now in what movies are on, and it will filter that. The benefit is we've integrated infrared so I can actually turn the TV on.

FierceWireless: A lot of the characteristics that HTC is emphasizing now--premium camera and audio experiences--are ones that the company tried to emphasize with the One series last year. How does that messaging become clearer and sharper this time?

Mackenzie: We're changing the culture within HTC. Our culture has always embraced this "quietly brilliant" mentality, which meant the good things about being humble. But we've been too quiet. We're embracing that we need to be a challenger. HTC is a company fighting against two of the biggest companies in the world, Apple and Samsung, who have a lot of resources. So we're embracing that.

What that means is we will be a lot more aggressive in our communication. We need to take ownership of our innovations. So if I think about last year, the HTC One X; great product. We had this "amazing camera, authentic sound" message, but it was too vague. We didn't communicate well why it was an a amazing camera. We essentially worked for our competitors in some cases, where we launched these great things like burst mode, and then we let Samsung come in and suck in our innovation and own it in the consumer's mind.

So the first thing we're doing with those big innovations I took you through--BlinkFeed, BoomSound and the UltraPixel camera--we're actually trademarking these terms, we're going to own them and we're going to be very aggressive about how we communicate those. The second thing is we're going to be a lot more strategic in how we're marketing. We'll have an "always on" approach. Before we've come out in these four- or five- or maybe eight-week bursts around a product. Now you will see HTC aggressively market throughout the year.

FierceWireless: Samsung and the Galaxy brand has now become synonymous with or even more recognizable than Android as a brand. What does HTC's brand stand for now?

Mackenzie: We built our name around being a strong partner. We did a lot of custom projects for different operators in order to provide them with significant differentiation, like the Evo, like the Droid Incredible line, like the MyTouch at T-Mobile. What it did is spread our marketing message too thin.

We want HTC to be synonymous with the best smartphones in the world. We're different and unique from our competitors in the sense that what we do are smartphones. That's who we are. We were a pioneer is establishing this whole category, one of the leaders. The idea around One is to have a simple brand name that denotes our flagship product offering and is simple, strong, but does not take away from the HTC brand. We want people to be talking about HTC in the same way they're talking about Galaxy.

FierceWireless: But what does the HTC brand signify?

Mackenzie: Design, quality and innovation.

FierceWireless: What do you think is the appropriate scale of the business?

Mackenzie: If we do a good job in getting our message out, and executing on our plan in terms of driving consumer demand, we believe HTC has the best opportunity of any OEM to be a strong No. 3. To not just be a No. 3 in smartphones, but to be a strong No. 3 that has a chance to actually grow from that position.

FierceWireless: Samsung will announce the Galaxy S IV on March 14. Last year you guys just ran into the buzzsaw of the S III in terms of marketing. How do you counteract that?

Mackenzie: We need to not stop marketing when they launch, which is what happened last year. We'll continue and really invest. We're going to invest more than we ever have as a company in terms of direct marketing. We're going to be strategic on how we market. So you'll see us in the U.S., for example--and we'll take the same approach globally--where we'll have a national footprint but then will go very deep in certain cities that are strategic to us and where we see our customers. Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, these big markets. We will take that same approach in the rest of the world.

The other thing is we have a pretty good base. 2011 was a good year for us. Those customers are coming up on contract this year, so we need to speak directly them. We have a big opportunity with them in terms of that upgrade cycle, and keeping our HTC customers in HTC.