Once upon a time, there was a handheld operating system that was used by many different companies.
For a while, these competed strongly against each other.
But, as time went by, one emerged as the victor, and many of the others fell away.
This one company now has a tremendous amount of power over the platform, and one could even say it holds the operating system’s destiny in the palm of its hand.
The operating system I am speaking of is, of course, Windows Mobile.
No More Fairy Tales
For many years, HP, Toshiba, Dell, ViewSonic, Audiovox, and others competed fiercely for the Pocket PC market. But, in recent years, a company that many people have never even heard of has come to dominate the Pocket PC world, especially in the United States.
This company is called High Tech Computing (HTC).
HTC has designed virtually every successful Pocket PC in the last couple of years.
Remember HP’s incredibly popular iPAQ h1900 series? It was designed by HTC.
Or how about Dell’s successful Axim X50 and X51 series? That was HTC again.
The situation is even more extreme when you look at cellular-wireless devices. Aside from some iPAQs, just about every Windows Mobile smartphone and Phone Edition device I can think of was designed by HTC.
And every Pocket PC that there has been any “buzz” around recently has been designed by HTC, no matter what company label is on it.
The i-Mate JASJAR? That’s was designed and built by HTC. Palm’s upcoming Windows Mobile Treo? Another HTC design. I’ve already mentioned the latest Axims. I could go on, but I won’t bore you with the full list.
The reason why so many companies turn to HTC to design and build their handhelds and smartphones is simple: it’s very good at it.
Let’s use HP as an example. Back a few years ago, HP bought the design for the iPAQ h1900 series from HTC. It quickly became wildly popular and was highly praised for its good looks and small size.
After this success, HTC created several more Pocket PCs for HP, all based on the h1900’s design. HP’s share of the handheld market began to grow.
Then, HP went back to designing its Pocket PCs internally. These were widely criticized for their boring boxy designs. HP’s share of the handheld market began to slip.
Recently, HP released the iPAQ rx1950, a device that clearly bears the HTC look. It appears that HP may have given up designing its handhelds internally and gone back to HTC.
The Fly in the Ointment
In some ways, HTC creating most of the Pocket PCs has been a real boon for all of us. When I think back to what we once had to put up with — and often actually liked — I shudder. The thought of sleeves makes me cringe, though at the time I believed it was a very innovative idea.
But there is one thing about this situation that worries me. While you might look at the Windows Mobile market and see lots of companies competing against each other, often it’s just one HTC model competing against another HTC model.
It will be even worse if HP really has switched back to having HTC design its handhelds. With HP, Dell, and the wireless carriers all using HTC designs, Pocket PC users in the U.S. will have virtually no choice but to pick an HTC device, no matter which company’s logo is on it.
This isn’t the sort of situation that leads to a lot of innovation. HTC’s engineers can’t feel much pressure to come up with radical new cutting-edge devices when they know they just have to compete with themselves.
I’ll admit, so far, HTC has done an excellent job designing outstanding Pocket PCs. I just wish it wasn’t the only company that seems capable of doing it.