It is the low-profile big daddy of the Windows Mobile world. Taiwan-based High Tech Computer Corp., known for making the Windows Mobile standard a success and with an estimated 70% market share in the category, has announced a tie-up with India’s largest mobile operator Bharti Airtel Ltd to distribute its iPhone rival—‘Touch’. Mint caught up with Peter Chou, CEO and president of the company, on his attempts to move the $3.2 billion company from a pure outsourced design and manufacturing firm to a branded player in the global handset market. Edited excerpts:
You started out 10 years ago as a design and manufacturing partner to the likes of Compaq, O2 and Palm. From a 10-member start-up of engineers, designing and making phones for others has helped you employ nearly 5,000 people now and garner a 70% marketshare of the Windows smartphone market in the process. Why the shift to your own brand now?
We see ourselves primarily as innovators. All our phones that we make are 100% designed by us. So, that way, we are not just a outsourced manufacturing company. Even today, a fourth of our employees are in research and development. But we found, in the last few years, that it was difficult to communicate innovation without a brand.
Sometimes, when we were coming up with new product designs, the companies (operators and handset manufacturers) will ask us, “why are you doing that?” We were dependent on others to bring innovation to the market.
Were there problems with your clients about going ahead with your own brand?
Some operators did not like what we were doing... the branding part. They did not want us to do the value-added part.
But we are OK now, because more than 70% of our revenues come from non-OEM business (original equipment manufacturer business, where the brand is owned by a different company, but manufacturing is done by the OEM).
What will the company’s strategy be in the future?
Like our tie-up with Bharti Airtel in India, we would like to have dual-branded products... where both the operator and we market it together.
We were a little late in coming to India with our brand, but now that we are here, we will launch all our products.
You have been credited with the success of the Windows Mobile platform. Earlier this year, you also became the first company in the world to announce the launch of a phone with full-blown PC capabilities and operating system. What drives the firm?
Mobility is the key. We want to enable people to do more and more when they are mobile.
If now they have to work on scaled down versions of programmes on their phones, with the launch of our new products, they will be able to do everything they can in the office, on the move.
Your competitors, such as Benq, have failed to make the transition from services to products. What makes you think you will succeed?
Passion. We are not a design and manufacturing company. We are an innovation and manufacturing company.
Only we have the passion to keep making small things smarter. But, at the same time, we also believe that a lot of research can go into making existing features and technologies more friendly, like our launch with Bharti of the ‘Touch’ (phone model).
What are your plans for India? Do you think Indian IT companies, which are mainly into supplying outsourced services, can also make the transition to coming out with their own products? What has led to the tremendous success of high-tech manufacturing in economies such as Taiwan and China?
Taiwan’s has been a special case. In India, we have good universities, economists, philosophy.
In Taiwan, during the 60s through the 80s, the educational system has been focusing on creating technicians who can do low-level technical work for North American companies... and we were able to benefit from our exposure to the computer industry there. It is very different from the India.