Today Slough, tomorrow Europe: HTC expansion drive to start in UK

HTC plans an aggressive push into Europe, reports Nick Clark
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The Independent Online

Opening an office in Slough may not always be a cause for dancing girls and acrobats. For smartphone maker HTC, however, it marks the culmination of an extraordinary growth not only in the UK, but worldwide. And experts believe it can soar from here.

HTC, now the world's third most valuable smartphone maker, unveiled its new European headquarters in Slough – O2's former headquarters, a stone's throw from its old base – to great fanfare yesterday.

Few outside the industry in the UK would have heard of the Taiwanese group three years ago. Now a fifth of smartphone owners in the country have an HTC in their pocket.

The UK operation was set up in 2005 with only five employees. The building currently houses 150 staff, and as a mark of its ambitious growth strategy, the company plans to double that in the next 12 months. "This building is half full for a reason, and it won't be for long," said Jon French, executive director of HTC in the UK, Ireland and South Africa.

Roberta Cozza, the principal analyst at Gartner, said: "It is a nice milestone for HTC in the UK. It marks what the company has achieved in terms of growth, as well as real moves forward in hardware and software. It also highlights where it can go."

The UK is a particularly important market for the company, the regional chief said. "If we look at the amount of smartphones shipped against the number of people in the country, this is the largest smartphone market in the world. It is also the fastest growing in Europe."

The company's chief executive Peter Chou flew in to mark the opening, saying it was an "incredible day" in HTC's history after the company had started from scratch "just six years earlier". Mr Chou added that he had come to the UK first in 1998 when HTC was just "a small engineering boutique house. I visited to learn about the telecoms industry".

Yesterday's launch brought many of the luminaries from the UK mobile industry together, including senior figures from the operators and the analyst community. The Culture minister Ed Vaizey opened the new headquarters and said: "It is a great vote of confidence in the UK that HTC has invested here and expanded here." Addressing Mr Chou, he added: "HTC has come a long way since you founded it as long ago as 1997."

HTC was set up in Taiwan by Mr Chou, Cher Wang and HT Cho with the goal of "putting computing into the hands of people around the world" and was one of the first to bring touchscreen devices to the mainstream market.

It was little known to consumers because it designed devices for other companies who put their own branding on them. Ben Wood, an analyst with CCS Insight, said: "HTC's secret is increasingly its 'can do' attitude. They started out making phones for the operators and became popular like that."

As well as the first Windows phone, it also developed the first Android phone, the G1. Subsequent android devices including the Hero, Sensation and Desire have all proved bestsellers. This coincided with the widespread rise in popularity of touchscreen mobile phones. The group's market capitalisation overtook Nokia in April. HTC's European head Florian Seiche appeared to have a crack at its beleaguered rival yesterday when he hailed his own company's rise at a time when "some of the bigger names are almost dropping out of the game".