I hate to start off this post with such a direct question, but there really isn’t any other way to better ask it. HTC’s sliding backwards, and it’s difficult to come up with even a fair explanation for their confounding decisions of late.

HTC pretty much spearheaded the Android smartphone market’s drive to popularity. It was the hardware manufacturing partner for the first ever Nexus device. It practically resurrected itself with the introduction a few years ago of the HTC One (nowadays known as the One M7). It impressed the world again with its follow-up, the One M8 – the premium handset that even caused Apple fanboys to take notice of Android, as HTC had finally seemed to raise Android’s cachet with a smartphone that looked, felt, and performed so well as to earn it some serious comparisons to the seemingly indomitable iPhone.

Then, it released the M9. A device that improved little upon its predecessor, and has severe issues of its own making. Sure, its camera – no longer using Ultrapixels – creates photos that have higher resolution, but honestly, at the end of the day, resolution doesn’t dictate image quality. I’ve seen blind comparisons of M9 photos vs. M8 photos, and often I end up preferring the M8’s take. I think it has superior reproduction of the environment in which the photo is taken – slight overexposure is totally okay in a super sunny bright environment! (In fact, it looks more realistic to the situation. Isn’t that typically the intent when taking a photo?) The M8 even comes with an amazing f/2.0 aperture lens, which is superior to the M9’s less-light-gathering f/2.2 (though common sense says that, if you’re employing an image sensor that captures light using pixels that have comparatively less surface area than a predecessor, you’d want to employ a lens that can capture more light than its predecessor, in order to keep the current generation’s camera specs and most fundamental capabilities on par with its predecessor). The M8 comes with a last-year’s-model of Snapdragon processor, but to be fair to the M8, it doesn’t produce an insane amount of heat that requires severe, processor-crippling throttling in order to keep its temperature at a safe level, contrary to the M9’s. The M8 doesn’t use the fatally-flawed heat beast the Snapdragon 810 that is THE Achilles’ heel of the M9 if there is one I can definitively point to. Not even the sexiest physical design specs and slickest marketing and most appealing no-fault, no-cost form of device protection insurance that comes with the M9 can overcome that biggest drawback.

What the hell was HTC thinking when it built the M9? Samsung passed over the 810 – wasn’t that a huge red flag? Motorola went bigger with a 6-inch screen for the Nexus 6, while HTC stuck with a 5-incher for its highest-priced flagship, in a market that is being dominated by devices having screens larger than 5 inches. It made practically no improvement to other components that matter a lot to smartphone users nowadays: battery capacity (practically unchanged), screen-to-body ratio (a ridiculous 68 percent, once again kept worse by putting a visually offsetting black bar of self-promotion between the screen and the speaker grill), storage capacity (unchanged at 32GB), even a removable battery (apparently not a chance). What is the compelling reason to buy/upgrade? Where is the demonstration of innovation through iteration? I certainly notice the $650 price tag.

I was really pulling for HTC, too. I bought an M8 last spring because in my mind it was a choice between the M8 or the iPhone, and I wasn’t keen on iOS. (Notice that comparison, by the way: I wasn’t considering any other models but the respective best-of-breeds of Android and iOS, that’s how much appeal the M8 had for me.) I loved the phone for many months, and was eagerly awaiting the M9 as winter approached. Once it was announced through, I started looking elsewhere. HTC gained me as a believer, and it only took a year before they proved to me that I’d probably be a fool if I bet on them again. Sad, really.

I’m still pulling for HTC, though, because they definitely have proven their knowledge in asthetics in their hardware construction as well as their software development of Sense. I just have serious doubts about the merits of their market strategy.