Ever since the first leaks of HTC’s new One A9 appeared there have been rumblings about its design.
Anyone with a basic knowledge of modern smartphones could see the new phone, officially launched this week, bore a striking resemblance to Apple’s current crop of iPhones.
The rounded frame, the antenna positioning, the buttons, the front and rear design. Everything looked as if HTC has taken Apple’s phone and run with it.
It’s been dismissed by The Verge as “the most blatant and high–profile rip off since Samsung’s original Galaxy S.”
It’s been derided, not as a bad device, but as a product which is seeking to emulate the world’s bestselling smartphone by simply looking the same.
Naturally, HTC isn’t taking this criticism lying down. Speaking with reporters at a press event, the company’s North Asia chief Jack Tong was strident in his defence.
“We're not copying,” he said. “We made a unibody metal-clad phone in 2013. It's Apple that copies us in terms of the antenna design on the back.”
There’s an element of truth to Tong’s statement. The One M7 was the first unibody metal smartphone, although it looked nothing like an iPhone.
And yes, Apple’s antenna design does look similar. But those antenna bands are found in virtually all metal phones - it’s how you stop calls from dropping.
What Tong doesn’t touch on is the fact that anyone can see where HTC’s inspiration has come from.
And while it is amusing to see, it won’t be for HTC if Apple’s lawyers come calling.
HTC is in nowhere near the strong position it once was. Its last results saw it report another net profit loss, its phone sales not capable of matching pace with Apple and Samsung.
Critical acclaim has come its way, but that’s not enough to keep making money.
If Apple takes the same approach as it took to Samsung’s Galaxy S, it’ll sue. And while Samsung, being a large conglomerate with a varied business, could soak up the legal pressure and damages, it’s unlikely HTC can.
A legal tussle with Apple could easily floor a company that has been on its knees for the best part of four years.
Tong may have a point. But expressing his opinion so forcefully to journalists may not have been a wise move. The HTC One A9 was meant to save the company, but it could end up being its death knell.