HTC’s smartphone chief and ex-CFO, Chialin Chang, resigns


HTC’s smartphone and connected devices president and former CFO, Chialin Chang, has resigned. The move, spotted earlier by Engadget, was announced today and is effective immediately.

Chang joined the company in 2012 as CFO. He also previously ran HTC’s global sales business — before eventually becoming president of smartphones and connected devices in 2016.

HTC’s investor note specifies Chang is leaving for “personal career plan” reasons, and local press in Taiwan is reporting that Chang intends to set up his own AI startup.

HTC does not list a replacement for the position and did not respond when we asked about its plans for rehiring a smartphone chief. A company spokesperson provided the following statement on the news: “We can confirm Chialin Chang has resigned from his position as President of the Smartphone and Connected Devices Business at HTC.  We thank him for his dedication to the Company for the last six years and wish him well in his future endeavours.”

Chang’s departure follows HTC transferring more than 2,000 of its best engineers to Google at the end of last month on the completion of a $1.1BN cooperation agreement between the pair, which was announced last fall — with Mountain View taking charge of many of the HTC engineers who worked on its Pixel devices.

In exchange HTC has a chunk of cash but the size of its engineering team has shrunk by about a fifth — and it’s now down a smartphone president to boot.

How it can go about reviving a smartphone business which has for years suffered lackluster earnings — on account of being outmanoeuvred and outgunned by faster and better resourced rivals — remains an open-ended question at this point. A glance at this statista graph amply illustrates the challenge.

In recent years HTC has been increasingly focused on its emerging VR business — under the Vive brand and in partnership with games publisher Valve. Though, in September, it said it remained committed to both VR and smartphones, including its U series of premium smartphones.

And it also said its collaboration with Google means it can continue to work with the engineers that now work for the Pixel maker.

Chairwoman and CEO Cher Wang is giving a keynote speech at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow later this month. But there will be no flashy HTC press conference — as was the norm in its smartphone heyday.

Indeed, it does not appear to have any flagship hardware launches in the pipe for MWC 2018. Though, once again, it will be demoing its Vive VR technology to delegates at the world’s biggest mobile show.

Featured Image: Joan Cros Garcia/Corbis/Getty Images

What to expect from Mobile World Congress 2018


The world’s largest phone show is set for Barcelona later this month, and it’s shaping up to be an interesting one — particularly in the wake of what amounted to an extremely lackluster CES last month. We’re still a couple of weeks out from the actual event, but the rumors have already started flying.

Few things are certain yet. It seems pretty clear that 5G will once again be taking center stage, and, unlike last year, companies may actually have more to offer on that front than mere talk.

Samsung announced its plans to launch its flagship at the event — bucking its recent trend of saving its big news for its own party. That’s a pretty tough act to compete with — as such, other manufacturers may well be keeping relatively quiet in Barcelona, so as not to get steamrolled by the S9.

Nokia and BlackBerry were surprise hits at last year’s show, courtesy of high-profile licensing deals, so expect more to come from that. Also, Qualcomm’s latest high-end chip, the Snapdragon 845, appears perfectly timed to appear on A LOT of flagships for the show. And Google, which made a big splash at CES and last year’s MWC, likely will be back to talk about the power of Assistant on mobile.

What follows is a collection of some of the most prominent rumors leading up to the year’s biggest smartphone show.

BlackBerry

The KeyOne was a surprise hit at last year’s MWC. It was a nice piece of hardware that managed to capture the BlackBerry magic, while updating it for the modern smartphone set. TCL (the company that licenses the BlackBerry name in most of the world these days) has a pair of new handsets on deck for 2018, so expect at least one to be shown off in Barcelona.

HTC

Not much to report here. HTC’s expected to stay pretty quiet this month. The phone maker is said to be keeping its powder dry for Mobile World Congress this year, as companies like Samsung dominate the show. The U12 is still on the horizon, but the flagship is now expected to launch closer to spring. No surprise, really — the company’s been intent on hosting its own launch parties of late.

LG

The company’s said to be bucking the trend of launching a new G series device at the show. Instead, the latest batch of rumors spearheaded by a report from The Korea Herald have the company launching an updated version of the V30, sporting enhanced AI features and the decidedly uncatchy name, “V30+’α’,” which certainly appears to have been dreamt up by some manner of robotic intelligence.

Nokia

Yes, Nokia. Well, HMD, actually. Last year’s show was a big one for the return of the once mighty brand under its newly licensed home. Last year, the company made a big splash with the launch — or, relaunch — of the 3310. The throwback handset captured the imagination of a public suffering from smartphone burnout. Also, it runs Snake. Given that this represented a sort of vindication for the licensing deal, I wouldn’t be too surprised if we see HMD attempting to capture lightning in a bottle yet again with another full-throttle embrace of retro hardware.

Beyond that, the company’s expected to post a whole load of new phones during a big press conference. Refreshes to the 6, 7 and 8 have all been floated, along with the arrival of the Nokia 9, a new flagship from the company, which, if nothing else, follows the company’s strict adherence to sequential numbers. Rumors give the new premium handset a 5.5-inch display, but beyond that, things have been fairly scattershot.

Samsung

Two weeks out, Samsung appears to have already won the show. The company actually managed to take some of the wind out of its own sails at CES by announcing that same week that it would be announcing its next flagship at Mobile World Congress.

Just in case there was any lingering doubt, the company has since sent out invites emblazoned with a giant number “9,” implying either the arrival the Galaxy S9/S9+ or the launch of DJ Koh’s new White Album-era Beatles cover band. Natasha wrote up what to expect, specifically focused on the handset, so here are a few key bullet points for those who hate paragraph formatting:

  • New camera tech. This is always a focus for the company, and this time out, added depth-sensing appears to be a big part of the equation. Also, improved low-light picture shooting.
  • All of that will be powered by the Snapdragon 845, the latest from Qualcomm (with an Exynos chip shipping in certain regions).
  • Fingerprint reader now located under the rear camera.
  • A battery increase is expected — baby steps on that front, however, for obvious regions.
  • Headphone jack, because Samsung’s just not ready to give up the ghost.

Given how much Samsung is investing in MWC this year, I’d anticipate additional hardware. A new version of the DeX docking station is expected, and given what a big show this will no doubt be for 5G, Samsung will probably be talking up networking until it’s blue in the face.

Sony

Sony loves to pile on the Xperia news at MWC. Last year, the company unloaded a bunch of handsets, and there’s no reason to expect that this one will be any different. Xperia XZ Pro is the name that’s been floating around since the middle of last month. The rumors give the flagship a 5.7-inch 4K display and the Snapdragon 845 that’s set to be all the rage at MWC. Naturally, however, the camera’s the thing here. After all, Sony’s handsets have always been as much about showcasing its camera technology as they are actually, you know, selling phones. The handset will supposedly sport a pair of rear-facing cameras.

Nest is being rolled into Google’s hardware team

Back in 2014, Google bought Nest — the hardware company behind things like the Nest Cam and the Nest thermostat — for around $3.2 billion. At the time, Google opted to keep Nest running as its own independent operation.

Seems that’s about to change.

Google’s head of hardware Rick Osterloh announced this afternoon that Nest will “join forces” with Google’s hardware team. In other words, they’re rolling Nest under the Google/Alphabet umbrella after all.

A rep from Nest tells us that the Nest brand will continue on within Google. They also confirmed that Nest CEO Marwan Fawaz will now report to Rick Osterloh, and that the company doesn’t “anticipate any significant role reductions” (in other words, they’re not planning to lay a bunch of people off as part of the merge.)

This is just the latest move by Google to beef up its hardware chops by bringing more engineers under one roof; just last week, the company finalized its deal to spend $1.1 billion acquiring a large part of HTC’s hardware operation.

Nest had previously (and still does, as of this morning) highlighted its independent relationship from Google, noting in its privacy FAQ that the company had a “separate management team, brand and culture. We even have our own separate headquarters!”

Rumors of this move had been going around for a few months now, with the first reports popping up back in November of 2017.

Google completes its $1.1B deal to buy a chunk of HTC’s smartphone division


Google has announced the completion of its $1.1 billion deal to buy a large slice of HTC’s hardware business.

The acquisition was announced back in September 2017 but now it has passed the requisite approvals and is finalized. Beyond the transfer of over 2,000 engineers from HTC — that’s around one-fifth of HTC’s engineering team — Google will also receive a non-exclusive license for HTC’s intellectual property. HTC is retaining its Vive VR division and it will continue to make its own smartphones, the company confirmed last year.

Most obviously, the deal boosts Google’s hardware game significantly by handing a portion of HTC’s own smartphone development team, many of whom worked on Google’s Pixel hardware (which was outsourced to HTC) and other HTC devices which, while much lauded, didn’t sell in huge volumes.

Secondly, it gives Google a vast new engineering base in Taipei, Taiwan, where HTC is located. That makes the location the largest engineering site for Google in Asia Pacific, and it is likely to be the source of new products from the company going forward.

“I’m delighted that we’ve officially closed our deal with HTC, and are welcoming an incredibly talented team to work on even better and more innovative products in the years to come,” Rick Osterloh, Google’s senior VP of hardware, wrote in a blog post.

“These new colleagues bring decades of experience achieving a series of “firsts” particularly in the smartphone industry—including bringing to market the first 3G smartphone in 2005, the first touch-centric phone in 2007, and the first all-metal unibody phone in 2013,” Osterloh added.

The closure of the deal marks another notable development for Google’s business in Asia in recent months.

The company announced plans to open an AI lab in Beijing, its first such location in China, while it is also opening a base in Shenzhen, the Chinese city seen as the world’s ‘Silicon Valley of hardware.’ Google has also turned investor, putting money into Chinese streaming service ChushouU.S.-Chinese biotech firm XtalPi, which uses AI and machine learning to help design drugs, and Indonesian ride-hailing service Go-Jek.

It has also struck a key alliance with Tencent, the $500 billion Chinese giant making moves in the U.S. and other global markets, after the duo agreed to a broad patent licensing deal. That’s a relationship to watch as Google advances its hardware and Asia business play.

Featured Image: Joan Cros Garcia/Corbis/Getty Images

HTC shows off the Vive Pro, a high-res headset targeted at ‘premium’ VR users


HTC is looking towards the high-end as it aims to distinguish its niche in the early VR market.

At CES, HTC showcased the VIve Pro, an updated PC-powered virtual reality headset that adds a higher resolution display, integrated audio and an updated tracking system.

The headset has a 2880×1600 display (previously 2160×1200) that will power views for both eyes. It’s a 74 percent increase in pixel density over the regular Vive, now at 615ppi. This puts the headset on par with the display of Samsung’s Odyssey headset while besting that of the Oculus Rift.

The company also showcased a wireless adaptor which will let users stream content wirelessly using Intel’s WiGig technology. This would make the headset truly untethered.

The headset will have integrated headphones and dual mics. HTC currently sells an add-on that brings headphones to the current-gen Vive. The Vive Pro will utilize Valve’s updated SteamVR 2.0 tracking system which allows for more accurate tracking.

The Vive Pro “takes premium VR to a new level,” HTC exec Dan O’Brien said. The company will continue to sell and market the standard Vive headset.

Vive Wireless Adapter

HTC didn’t offer any details on pricing, an area that has proved to be a major struggle for them. The headset will be coming sometime this quarter.

The Taiwanese company has had a bit of a rough time competing with its larger competitors who don’t have to focus on hardware margins as they build VR products that sell their platform. Aggressive price cuts from Facebook’s Oculus have backed HTC into an awful standing where it has to pitch its comparable headset as a “luxury” alternative to the Rift.

The Vive Pro makes a number of changes that at least differentiate the company’s offering from what its competitors are offering. Whether this will be enough to compete with Facebook and Microsoft is going to rely heavily on how aggressive HTC prices this.