HTC plots drive into Europe from Slough

The Taiwanese phone giant has opened a new European HQ just six years after it launched in the UK with five staff

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 hugely 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 companies 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 hugely popular like that."

Crucial gadget launches included the Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC, followed by one of the world's first touchscreen smartphones – the Xda, for Microsoft. In 2006, the company decided to concentrate on pushing its own brand and released the HTC Torch the following year.

Ms Cozza said: "HTC has always been at the edge of innovation and technology, but more than that, it really took into account what the user wanted."

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.

Pete Cunningham, principal analyst at Canalys, said: "HTC are a fantastic success story. There aren't many companies that can replicate what they've done." He said that much of the rise was down to Android. Revenues were more than $9bn in 2010, more than double that of a year earlier. According to numbers drawn up by Canalys, HTC shipped 9.7 million smartphones in the first three months of the year. This marked a 192 per cent rise year-on-year at a time when the smartphone market rose 83 per cent. Mr Cunningham said yesterday's move was another indication HTC "has arrived. Now it's about moving forwards".

The group's market capitalisation overtook Nokia, a company that has failed to crack the high-end smartphone market, 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".

Analysts see few clouds on the horizon. Ms Cozza said: "It feels like they are making the right steps, unlike many others. It is hard to differentiate yourself in the Android market but they have managed it." HTC now has 15,000 employees around the world and is likely to expand.

Mr Chou said: "This is just the beginning of the smartphone era." He pointed to developments like 4G, which will increase the speed of the mobile internet, services in the cloud, wave-and-pay, and biometric services. "It will become your digital wallet, keys and even your teacher."

Left to its own devices

* HTC developed the G1 for release on T-Mobile's network in 2008. The phone was eagerly awaited as it was the first device running the Google-developed Android operating software. It would later make the first "Google phone," the Nexus One.

* The HTC Touch, which had the code name Elf, was the first own-brand device on the market. The phone, which was launched in June 2007 and ran Microsoft software, stood out as it could tell the difference between a finger and a stylus. An enhanced model emerged five months later.

* The HTC Desire was announced in February last year and has proved the most popular of the manufacturer's handsets to date. Has HTC Sense, its own software, layered over the top of the Android system.

* At the Mobile World Congress in February, HTC released two devices dubbed "Facebook phones", the ChaCha and the Salsa, developed for heavy users of the social network.

* The company yesterday announced the launch of its Evo 3D, which does not need glasses to view the imagery.

HTC timeline

* 1997: High Tech Computer Corporation is set up in Taiwan by Peter Chou, Cher Wang and HT Cho.

* 2000: The launch of its first major product, the iPAQ.

* 2002: Creates the first smartphone running a Microsoft operating system, dubbed the Xda.

* 2005: Opens operation in the UK in Slough with five employees. In the same year, it creates first Microsoft 3G phone.

* 2007: Unveils first own-brand device, the HTC Touch.

* 2008: Partners with T-Mobile and Google to launch the G1, the first phone to run the Android operating software.

* 2010: The company sells more than 24.6 million handsets, more than double the previous year.

* June 2010: HTC unveils the Evo 4G, the first 4G phone in the US. Announces deal to sell phones in China under its own brand name.

* June 2011: Moves to a bigger site in Slough and plans to double workforce in a year. Launches Evo 3D.

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