It was supposed to be the feature that makes HTC outshine Samsung Electronics and Apple. Instead, the complications of producing a camera with what the company calls UltraPixels has forced HTC to delay the roll-out of its HTC One smartphone.
The UltraPixel Camera is so new, so special, so unique, that it's so, so, so difficult to make, HTC Chief Marketing Officer Benjamin Ho told reporters in Taipei yesterday. "It can't ramp up so quickly," he said of the camera sensor specially designed and produced for the Taiwanese company.
Well, it could — but then there'd be a trade-off on quality, he continued, taking a gentle dig at Apple's problems with some pre-scratched iPhone 5 units.
The HTC One, unveiled in February, was originally supposed to begin shipping in early March. Now, it's set to arrive on shelves this week in just three markets, the U.K., Germany and Taiwan, before hitting the big time across Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific next month. As recently as a week ago, HTC execs were holding onto the tale that because they were working with suppliers to boost output, the product would launch on time this month.
The cornerstone of the device is this UltraPixel Camera, which HTC says has larger pixels and an aperture that lets in 44 percent more light than the iPhone 5. That means it'll take better pictures in low-light conditions.
Unfortunately for HTC, producing such a sensor can be ultra difficult.
For Ho, who is tasked with rebuilding a battered brand, the choice to delay was the lesser of two evils: start shipping and risk having some faulty units tarnish the product's reputation; or delay shipments and face a possible miss on quarterly guidance, a likely decline in credibility, and an assured loss of lead time over Samsung's Galaxy S4.
Of course, that may not have been the marketing exec's choice to make, though he speaks as if it was. After all, Ho has only been in the job for less than three months.
Ho's confession that the HTC One will be delayed was coupled with another admission: that it can't afford to waste its marketing budget on a less-than-perfect device and risk complaints from customers. Last quarter, HTC fell within a whisker of recording its first operating loss ever. That's forcing HTC to keep a tight rein on spending in the face of huge marketing campaigns by Samsung and Apple.
Ho, with few guns in his arsenal, is keeping his powder dry until the time comes to launch an assault. Were it to fire up its marketing engine without a solid product to drive, HTC's operating numbers could easily fall into the red — and that would be more than a headache.