HTC pivots from blockchain to the metaverse for its next smartphone gimmick

HTC’s slow-motion fall from smartphone grace is reportedly set to continue in 2022, with the company said to be working on a new “metaverse”-focused phone in April as the remnants of the once-flagship smartphone company continues to desperately cling to whatever zeitgeist term it can to stay afloat, according to DigiTimes.

The news comes from Charles Huang, HTC’s general manager for the Asia-Pacific region, who reportedly commented at MWC 2022 that the company would be introducing a new high-end smartphone next month with unspecified “metaverse” features. Details are slim, including any specs, markets it’ll be released in, or even what kind of AR or VR features the new device will offer.

The news sounds a lot like HTC’s last major pivot towards relevancy: its Exodus line of blockchain phones that its offered for the past few years. Promising decentralized apps (“Dapps”) and a built-in cryptocurrency wallet, the phones could run blockchain nodes and even mine paltry amounts of cryptocurrency, but — like instances of blockchain technology — it was a solution largely in many search of a problem that never really took off.

For argument’s sake, a metaverse phone would at least make slightly more sense than a blockchain one, if only because HTC has actually been a major player in the virtual reality space.

HTC’s main announcement at MWC 2022 was the debut of a nebulous “Viverse” — the company’s metaverse concept that promises to fuse VR, XR, 5G, blockchain technology, NFTs, and more together into a new, futuristic platform.

It’s even possible to imagine what a metaverse-integrated smartphone could be, given the existence of projects like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Spaces or Microsoft Mesh, which aim to help integrate traditional devices like smartphones into VR and AR experiences.

In that vein, a high-end HTC “metaverse” phone could optimistically be one that ties deeply into the company’s VR headsets for an integrated, cross-device experience that boldly changes how we think about using smartphones (and other devices) in virtual settings .

That said, the metaverse phone could also be a lackluster smartphone that has a few half-baked VR apps preloaded. For what it’s worth, HTC’s Viverse site does explicitly call out that one will be able to interact with its metaverse concept from “any phone, tablet, PC, or VR headset,” complete with an image of a smartphone that appears to be doing just that.

Given that HTC’s Viverse doesn’t really exist — nor does widespread adoption of any modern metaverse concept — it’s easy for the company to just say it’s making a metaverse app or phone. After all, who’s to say that you aren’t?

Maybe the metaverse phone that HTC is launching will be a revelation, the kind of product that launches HTC back to relevancy and puts the company back at the forefront of the industry. But the company’s recent history doesn’t give much hope that it will be.

It’s almost difficult to remember in 2022, but HTC used to make good phones — devices for both Android and the different versions of Windows Phone that were among the best hardware you could buy. Phones like the legendary HTC HD2, the HTC Evo 4G, the HTC One X, the ultra-sleek HTC One, or the jewel-toned HTC U11.

But that was, in many ways, a different company than the HTC of today, before the company sold a good chunk of its smartphone talent to Google in a $1.1 billion deal back in 2017. Since then, Google’s Pixel phones have only gotten better and better, while HTC’s smartphone fortunes have languished.

Despite its hardware chops, HTC — like LG, Motorola (prior to its own trials and tribulations with Google), and other Android device makers — was unable to find lasting commercial success, squeezed out by Samsung’s more popular Galaxy devices on one end and Apple’s iPhones on the other.

And that brings us to the HTC of today: hollowed out of the engineers and designers that once made its phones so great, frantically flailing with blockchain phones, metaverse phones, and whatever other major buzzword comes next to stay afloat in a smartphone market that barely resembles the one in which it was a major player.

It’s not that HTC is completely devoid of ambition or good products: the company’s still producing high-end virtual reality headsets aimed at businesses and recently launched its unique-looking Vive Flow headset for more casual customers, too.

Then again, looking back at products like the Evo 3D or Facebook-focused HTC Status and HTC First — it’s possible that being doomed to chasing gimmicks on the road to irrelevancy was always HTC’s fate.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo