RANCHO PALSO VERDES, Calif. — Peter Chou’s hunch was right. His Taiwanese phone company, HTC, was founded in 1997 to pursue the vision that smartphones would be transformative.
HTC went on to produce the first Windows smartphone in 1999 and later the first phone based on Google’s Android software. On Friday, it launches the first smartphone running Clearwire’s 4G network.
Chou showed Walt Mossberg the 4G Evo that HTC’s making for Sprint during his appearance at the All Things Digital conference.
Mossberg asked Chou to discuss how his company is building phones based on both Google’s Android software and Microsoft’s Windows phone platforms.
“Different people like different things,” Chou said. “What we try to do is have the best mix of technologies and design and give people a choice.”
What’s the difference between Android and Windows, Mossberg asked.
“Windows has a lot of Windows users — legacies — and they are very familiar to the Windows experience.”
Asked about the challenges Windows Mobile has had, Chou said “Windows has a lot of value” and noted that HTC is making phones based on the upcoming Windows Phone 7 software.
Android appeals to people who do more social networking, and it has good applications, like maps, Chou said.
HTC — which has U.S. headquarters in Bellevue and a software center in Seattle’s Pioneer Square — is moving from a somewhat invisible manufacturer of phones for other companies to a consumer brand with more prominent logos and a proprietary software interface.
Chou said its recent brand campaign is working and customers are now asking for HTC phones by name, he said.
Mossberg questioned whether consumers will get confused by all the brands appearing on phones now — the manfucturer, carrier and software provider.
“There’s a lot there,” Mossberg said.
“We are trying to minimize that a little bit, so there are some of those on the back and not everyone on the front like right now,” Chou said.
Smartphone sales are surging, but they’re still expensive to produce — about $400 apiece wholesale — and are complicated for some users, Chou said.
The company is working on a lower-priced alternative, the HTC Smart, that will cost phone companies about $150, run apps and be based on Qualcomm’s Brew platform.
Asked about the fragmentation of Google’s Android platform, Chou said the proliferation of different versions “causes a little bit of problem” but that’s the nature of a modular product.
During audience questioning, Chou was asked about the short battery life of the Evo. He replied that the battery works longer if the phone’s more advanced features aren’t being used, but he said battery life is something that needs to improve on smartphones.
“The battery technology is one area that innovates very slowly,” he said, adding that he spends a lot of time talking to battery suppliers.
“I don’t have a lot of good news, but I hope one day we don’t need a battery to run the device,” he said.
In response to a question from an interested investor, Chou said he hopes to have the stock listed in the U.S. as well as on the Taipei market.