Backed by Under Armour, RE Grip is a beautiful and utilitarian device; but it's unclear when customers will be able to buy one

Apple, Inc. (AAPL) is learning the hard way what OEMs peddling product on Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android Wear platform already discovered in disappointment -- most customers aren't yet ready to carry, in effect, a second smartphone on their wrist.

But the market for band wearables -- a cousin of sorts to the smartwatch -- are showing much stronger growth potential.  Even with virtually no marketing and far less brand visibility fitness "smartband" maker Fitibt Inc. (FIT) reportedly is managing to outsell the Apple Watch on a units-per-month basic, acording to market researchers.  And Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) has been pleased with the consumer feedback and sales of its own smartband, aptly dubbed the "Microsoft Band".  And Xiaomi has seen relatively strong international sales of its $13 USD Mi Band. With these minimalist, affordable, purpose-driven wearables winning droves of customers, the time seems right for more companies to launch smartbands of their own.

That's what makes HTC Corp.'s (TPE:2498) announcement this week so perplexing and frustrating.  HTC is killing of its sleek smartband, dubbed the "HTC RE Grip" (or sometimes, just "HTC Grip") before it could ever make it to market.


Is HTC overthinking things?

it's possible.  The company has long expressed reticence to step into the smartwatch space, an unpopular opinion that now appears mildly savvy given the segment's struggles.  So when it did give a slightly different kind of wearable -- the smartband a go -- it first soft launched by distributing a small quantity of the sports smartband to customers in the wild.

HTC Re Grip
The HTC Re Grip wsa expect to see a spring launch in multiple sizes (pictured).
[Image Source: Slashgear]

The bands were first unveiled months ago in March at one of the mobile electronics industry's largest annual trade shows -- the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain.  On paper the bands looked market ready.

Codesigned by athleticwear power brand Under Armour Inc. (UA) the device showcased strong and deliberate design language. The bands came in three different sizes (for different wrsts) and in two different color schemes which cool obsidian grays with either yellows or neon greens.  The greens embodied a sort of Xbox-like vibrance, while the rich yellows conjured up memories of the popular "Livestrong" wristbands of the early 2000s.  Both looks are easy on the eyes.  

It was no slouch hardware wise either.  Packing a tiny low-power GPS unit and a pint-sized 1.8-inch P-OLED (polymer organic light emitting display) low power readout, the hardware and overall look of the device was pleasantly analogous to the Microsoft Band.  And unlike the Apple Watch, which only supports the iPhone, the HTC Grip would support both iOS 7+ (iPhone) and Android 4.3 ("Jelly Bean") or newer.

HTC Re Grip

Wearable fans were expect good things to happen for the device.  Price was not mentioned, but most expect it to debut at a competitive rate in the Spring.  AT&T Inc. (T) even teased at the device in a March press release.  And as part of its media blitz for the device numerous members of the press got to test the device.  By April dozens of reviews -- most relatively positive -- were littering the web.  All this combined to give the strong appearance that the device was about to watch.

HTC Re Grip

But appearances were deceiving.  There was no spring launch, as promised.  Instead the months ticked by and HTC never launched it.  And now HTC has confirmed to Engadget that it won't be launching the device.  Engadget reports:

[W]e're knee-deep in Summer already, and the company just confirmed to us that it no longer plans to ship the Grip we've already seen. As a spokesperson put it, the company "decided to align Grip with the entire product portfolio for health and fitness launching later this year" after "extensive wear testing and user feedback." In other words, the exact Grip we saw in Spain won't hit the market, but something better will.

Was HTC software too immature?  Was it worried about lack of exposure?  Was there some sort of other issue, i.e. irritation/rashes due to the materials used?  HTC didn't give much details, other than the general mea culpa about the device's failure to launch.

But there is a bit of good news that adds a confusing caveat to this already puzzling picture -- there are signs that HTC is prepping a successor to the Grip.  As noted by Engadget, a Bluetooth enabled Grip was certified last week by the Bluetooth Standards Implement Group (BSIG), a standard step in the month or two prior to a product launch.

Even if it does make it to market, though, one cannot help but feel HTC lost a major opportunity in taking a lacksadaisical approach to rollout of the device.  While HTC's recent leadership shuffle (with Peter Chou stepping down as CEO) may be partly responsible, HTC is in a position where can afford precious little in the way of excuses.

Launching the band might have meant vital sales for the cash strapped OEM.  Instead it's fumbled the launch, a mistake that not only carries financial costs, but which risks alienating Under Armour -- an enviable ally.

On edge of dropping out of the top 10 in smartphone unit shipments, HTC is no longer the dominant force it was a half decade ago when it boasted more volume than any other Android smartphone seller in the world's most valuable market -- the U.S.
Today the ugly truth is that HTC is a bit player.  And in order to stay viable as a fringe contender in the smartphone space it must diversify.

HTC Re Grip
Diversification is key to HTC staying viable. [Image Source: Engadget]

Fortunately wearables aren't HTC's only side-project.  It's also working on the Vive VR virtual reality helmet with Valve Corp. (a wearable whose market release is also up in the air).  But it's clear that HTC should look to avoid further delays to its Grip project.

A probable launch target will the IFA 2015 consumer electronics trade show which runs Sept. 4-9 in Berlin, Germany.  Hopefully HTC doesn't draw this out any further.  It has a good looking smartband.  But that's all for naught if it doesn't sell it.

Sources: Engadget, Bluetooth Certification

"We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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