HTC: Confusingly brilliant.

This morning saw the announcement of another addition to the HTC One series of phones – the HTC One SV, the sixth smartphone in the series.

It’s a move which is sure to have consumers scratching their heads again over exactly which model of phone HTC is pushing most strongly given the sheer number of HTC phones available.

I’ve long believed that one of the main reasons HTC lag so far behind their biggest rivals is that, at any one time, most people haven’t got a clue what their flagship model is.

With new phones released almost continuously throughout the year, a quick glance at the collection of HTC smartphones available would be enough to convince most people who haven’t the time or patience to spend researching each phone to simply give up and opt for a manufacturer who make things a lot simpler for them.

Having established their position as leaders in the battle for mobile phone sales, one of the reasons why Apple maintain a strong share of the market is that there is no confusion over which of their mobile phone products the company wants you to buy.

Few companies have been as efficient at product marketing than Apple, something which is easier to do when there is only one product to market in the first place.

Replacing the iPhone was the iPhone 3G, followed by the iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 4. Only now, with both the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5 on sale concurrently, do consumers have a choice over which iPhone they buy.

Even now, it is still obvious that one is newer, and therefore likely to be better. The only choice is to weigh up whether the advantages of the newer model justify its higher price.

Samsung, the main rival of HTC in the Android market, have many more than one phone, but the company’s marketing strategy ensures that there is no doubt what their top phone is.

The acclaimed Samsung Galaxy S2 was widely considered to be the best smartphone on the market when it was released. Its successor, the Galaxy S3, is rated every bit as highly – something that consumers are well aware of.

Anyone on the lookout for a top of the range Android-based smartphone won’t have to look at any other Samsung model – just as a year ago, they wouldn’t have had to look at any Samsung phone other than the Galaxy S2.

From the two companies covered so far, the choice facing a consumer looking to purchase the best phone on the market is between an iPhone and a Galaxy S3.

And so to HTC.

Early last year, upgraded versions of the HTC Incredible and the HTC Desire were released, each with the ‘S’ suffix. Later came the HTC Incredible, Amaze 4G, Evo, Explorer, and two further versions of the Incredible – all in addition to a whole range of lower specification models that were also brought out during 2011.

For the average consumer, there was never an obvious model that stood out so clearly as to be considered along with the Apple and Samsung options.

Without detailed research on the features offered by each model, how would people know whether the Incredible was better or worse than the Sensation, for example? And what about when each were upgraded? Would it be any more obvious when choosing between the Incredible S and the Sensation XE? And what of the more lightweight Desire S, which matched many of the specifications of the former two models?

That sums up for me why HTC have been unable to make as strong an impact on the smartphone battle as Apple or Samsung. There is simply too much choice between too many products which are ultimately too similar to each other.

Things looked to be changing in the spring, when the announcement of the HTC One series was first made.

There would be three models: the One V, a cheaper and more compact model, the One S, consisting of a typical screen size and more features, and finally the One X, the largest and most powerful model in the range.

Great, I thought, the lesson has been learnt and there is finally some simplicity to the choices of HTC product. But sadly, in the months since, confusion has returned.

Firstly, the Desire has been resurrected. And not just an upgrade, but three new models: HTC Desire C, V and X. None offer any significant improvements over the Desire S other than an upgrade to the operating system.

Then there have been further models of the HTC One, specifically the One XL and the One X+. According to a comparison on the HTC website, there are some subtle differences between each, but the specifications are largely the same. Yet all variants of the HTC One are available and today, the One SV was added to the growing number of HTC Ones.

One phone, six versions – and, probably, counting.

Given the constantly moving conveyor belt of new products, and marketing which fails to promote any one model particularly well, it’s worth asking whether HTC actually stands for How To Confuse.

But despite any shortcomings in the marketing of HTC phones, the products themselves compare extremely well with those of their competitors.

Reviews consistently rate HTC products highly, and from personal experience I can back up any such views. On choosing a HTC Desire S last year, I found that it compared favourably to the iPhone 4. The iPhone clearly had a better screen but in all other areas of performance, there didn’t appear to be any clear advantages.

If HTC focused on fewer products, or concentrated on a prolonged marketing campaign of a single model that they wished to pitch against the best that their rivals have to offer, then perhaps the share of the market would be more evenly split.

However, any such approach looks to be as far away as ever and that means that a company marketed as being ‘quietly brilliant’ may have to stay that way for a little while longer.

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