From Motherboards to Mobile: HTC’s Cher Wang at AsiaD
When Cher Wang co-founded HTC in the late 1990s, the company was a manufacturer of notebook computers. These days, its bread and butter are smartphones and tablets, two of the fastest-growing consumer electronic segments in the world. Wang was instrumental in that transition, spearheading HTC’s partnership with Google to build the Dream, the first phone to run the company’s Android mobile OS. That alliance has brought HTC great success, but it has also left the company largely dependent on Android. Little wonder, then, that HTC is rumored to be keen on acquiring a mobile OS of its own, a move that could help differentiate the smartphone manufacturer from its rivals.
3:57 pm: Walt welcomes Cher Wang to the stage.
Walt: So your title at HTC is chair, is that right? Or chairwoman? How do you … ?
Cher Wang: Chairwoman.
Walt: Chairwoman. Good. Okay. I want to get around to talking about the company and all of that stuff, but I think you have a fascinating life story, and could you just kind of tell it briefly?
Cher Wang: I thought this is a technology forum.
Walt: It’s a technology forum, but we’re also interested in the human side.
Cher Wang: Okay.
Walt: So how did you get your start?
Cher Wang: Well, you know, I actually started with making model boards before, a long, long time ago, maybe 30 years ago. And actually, well, let me tell you about HTC again. Actually, I started dreaming about mobile lifestyles, things that was … and we have to put in these motherboard into the …
Walt: You were selling these motherboards.
Cher Wang: Yes … a case, right? And I have — I was in Europe and I have to drag up and down the train stations. And it was very tiring, you know, dragging this big, you know, PC, and showing the customer the performance. So — and while it’s very tiring, you know, you’re always daydreaming in the train and start … about these mobile phones.
Walt: So basically you were dreaming about the mobile phone so that you wouldn’t have to carry a big box?
Cher Wang: Yes, that we can actually communicate with our loved ones and listen to music. And that’s how I started. And these dreams actually are coming true these days, that mobile lifestyle. And it’s actually very interesting and very exciting to me.
Walt: So when did you found HTC?
Cher Wang: 1997.
Walt: And you also founded some other companies, this motherboard company, I don’t know what the name of it was.
Cher Wang: Oh, that’s a long time ago. It’s called FIC.
Walt: But there’s another one, right? VIA?
Cher Wang: Yes.
Walt: Which is a semiconductor company.
Cher Wang: Yes.
Walt: And you have some other investments in broadcasting and other things that you do, right?
Cher Wang: Yes.
Walt: So you — you’re just a multitalented woman.
Cher Wang: Well, you know, I’m basically just a curious person and when — this world is just very fascinating and it’s very exciting. So you see something new, right, and you want to pop in and really get to know what’s going on. And you find the right people with you that have the same vision, you just want to start with something, right?
Walt: Okay. So in 1997 you started HTC. And the company for a long time was — primarily it made phones for other brands. Is that right?
Cher Wang: Yes. Yes, we actually very — it was very early that we started with these handheld device. And we have this dream. And we actually tried pedaling our technology, you know, our innovation, to these OEMs. And it’s just very hard to communicate with something new. And it’s very hard also to get our consumers understand what’s our value. So, you know, it’s just we actually decided that we have to really communicate our innovation through our brand name.
Walt: And that’s — what year was that you really kind of shifted to try and establish the brand?
Cher Wang: 2007.
Walt: So not that long ago, right?
Cher Wang: That’s right.
Walt: When Android came out, you were the principal hardware partner, I think ,doing Android phones. And it almost became synonymous. Motorola, you know, did some, but I think the G1 was yours and you were — like at least I associated, and a lot of people associate HTC with Android. I think the — my sense is in the last year, 18 months, things have shifted some, mostlybecause Samsung, which is a much bigger company, has decided to make a giant push into this. Talk to me about that. How do you — is the competition harder than it was?
Cher Wang: Well, you know what? I think that mobile lifestyle and personal smartphone devices is still in the very young stage. And sometimes people get ahead, sometimes other people get ahead, and sometimes we get ahead, but it’s just — the market is so big and so exciting and, you know, you just have to keep looking. And our phone is great, right? It’s the competition, we welcome the competition. And the competition is ourself.
Walt: So who do you think of, when you guys sit and make your plans, as the principal competitor, and who do you not worry about?
Cher Wang: I really believe that the competition is within ourself, how do we really be determined, how do we really look into the opportunity and really want to bring people’s life better and give them value. I really believe that.
Walt: I believe you that you really believe it, but you’re also really smart, so you must have some sense of there are other companies out there competing for people’s dollars. And people have a finite amount of money. Most people, not counting this audience, probably are only going to buy one smartphone at a time. There are probably people here with three or four, but I’m looking at you first row I think, you know, but so they’re either going to buy an HTC phone or they’re going to buy an iPhone or they’re going to buy a Galaxy or they’re going to buy a Motorola or when, you know, some — a Nokia Windows phone when they become available. You have a lot of competitors out there, right?
Cher Wang: Yes. Yes.
Walt: Tell me if I’m right or wrong that Samsung has come on in a strong way.
Cher Wang: Well, I really believe that the smartphone is still in the very young stage.
Walt: Yes, you said that.
Cher Wang: And there is a lot of innovation that can be implemented into your smartphone, and today that we are better, and sometimes some people have choice of other phones. But once that you touch our HTC, you will never try to put it down.
Walt: So you’re just not going to talk about Samsung? Is that right?
Cher Wang: Who is that?
Walt: Okay. There’s a — obviously, another booming, booming market in tablets. You have a couple of tablets, am I right?
Cher Wang: Yes.
Walt: But it doesn’t seem to be as big a focus for HTC as for some of the other companies. Can you talk about this? Do you think it’s the right moment for tablets? Is it just iPads and they happened to be lucky or what’s the deal? What’s going on? How do you look at the whole tablet market?
Cher Wang: Yes, I really think tablet is also in the even younger stage.
Cher Wang: And it’s — the most important thing is the — how do you actually bring these holistic experience about software and hardware and combined with the smartphone and different type of mobile devices. And, again, for the — your customer, end user — these holistic values and experience, that’s the most important. And I really think tablet is still in a very young stage.
Walt: Do you really believe the stylus is a competitive advantage?
Cher Wang: Yes. I really believe that. So there is a lot of applications. The mobile lifestyle is just so enormous … interesting and a lot of innovation. And that’s a lot of like entertainment, education, health, you know, social networking. There’s a lot of innovation coming in. And it’s going to combine with your smartphone and your tablet. It’s another, you know, pen actually. You know, I really believe that …
Walt: So how many tablets have you sold? Not smartphones, tablets.
Cher Wang: Oh, I think you know better than me, Walt.
Walt: Well, if I had to guess, I’d say not very many.
Cher Wang: Well, it’s going to be many. It’s going to be. You know, you will be surprised.
Walt: So your next tablet is going to sell big?
Cher Wang: I think we are improving all the time. And as I repeat that tablet is still in the very young stage. And we believe that at HTC, we believe we are the forerunner of the smartphone. That smartphone is really the central units that you can hold in your hand and control the world.
Walt: Do you worry about competing with companies that are much bigger than you that have the ability to bring into the system their own chips, their own, you know, hardware components, their own glass, things like that? You’re — you are innovative. I agree. You’ve been a very innovative company and you’ve built a good, highly respected brand. I wouldn’t have you here on stage if that wasn’t true. But you’re a smaller company than some of the people competing with you. I mean, Apple now, you know, designs their own processor. Ironically, it’s made by Samsung, but, you know, they design it. They buy, in gigantic scale, flash memory and glass. And Samsung, of course, is a company that has divisions that makes all of these things. Does this put you at a disadvantage in this competition?
Cher Wang: You know, Walt, if you actually visit our company, you will be amazed of our engineer capabilities, not only in chipset designing, integrations, and also that our software capability. And also one thing about HTC I think is an advantage over a lot of companies, that we are very good with partners. The partners actually bring their technology to us and try to ask us to actually bring their technology up. … In the beginning that when we started HTC and we already believed that if we want to be successful, we have to really bring — embrace all talents, all of the international talent in our company. So actually that if you walk into our meeting room, not even — even R&D, that you will — actually it’s just like the United Nations.
Walt: What’s your No. 1 goal? To have the biggest market share?
Cher Wang: Well, you — of course, but I really believe that how you really change people’s lives and bring the value to our customers. You know, I believe that technology can change people’s lives.
Walt: What about people that can’t afford smartphones? What are you doing there?
Cher Wang: Yes, I think technology is getting better and better, and cheaper and cheaper. Well, I think that one, that smartphone is going to give the people tremendous value even for the people who cannot afford it. This is something that really bridge, you know, talk about a bridge the digital gap. The smartphone is going to bring people that type of experience. And I believe that technology just keep improving.