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Android Headliner: HTC Nexus Phone, Saving Grace or Big Mistake?

January 22, 2016 - Written By John Anon

OK, so this is going to be a touchy subject. Regardless of how HTC is currently doing, they do have a massive fan base and one which would love to see HTC back to its best. Of course, this is also Nexus and that in itself, is a difficult place to venture without expecting massive criticism. At the core of the question, HTC is not actually a company that currently needs saving. Yes, their last proper flagship device, the One M9 did not take to the market in the way that many had hoped. However, those who actually owned the device will tell you that it is a great device. So while the One M9 did not set the world alight, if the One M10 lands when it is supposed to and makes a proper impact this time, then HTC will be back in the game. Then there’s the whole HTC Vive and Vive Pre business. While HTC are a little tight-lipped on the finer details – like the price, they do see to be taking virtual reality extremely seriously. HTC’s own Cher Wang was recently reported implying that they view virtual reality as a more important industry than smartphones. If that sentiment is in any way true, then a new Nexus smartphone (or two) from HTC is unlikely to make any meaningful difference as HTC has already moved on to the next big thing.

But, and this is a very big BUT, this is Nexus. And regardless of everything else, making a Nexus device does have an impact on a manufacturer. While the impact is not necessarily in financial terms – as a Nexus device is not exactly the big selling devices some would like to believe, what Nexus devices do, is make a statement. They are Google’s proof of concept and always employ hardware which is primarily designed to emphasize the software running on the device. And last year proved exactly how a Nexus device can make a big branding difference.

Up until recently, Huawei remained one of those brands which people knew the name of better than they actually knew the company. However when it was announced that Huawei would be making the next Nexus, suddenly people began paying far more attention to them. Not only was this a more of an unknown company than some of the other Nexus partners, but it was also the first time Google had called upon the services of a Chinese OEM. A move which many questioned in the build-up to the release of the Nexus 6P. In fact, right before the device was properly unveiled, many were still criticizing the Nexus 6P and what had been dubbed its ugly bump. You don’t hear too much about the bump now, as since it arrived the Nexus 6P has quickly established itself as the hottest device around. A bump people are now proud to show off. Not to mention, a bump which inevitably led to Huawei closing out 2015 as one of the biggest manufacturers around.

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So, while building a Nexus smartphone won’t necessarily guarantee a company big returns on their bottom line, it is extremely high profile and puts the name very much out there. While HTC do not really need publicity which leads to greater brand awareness, they do need some good publicity to counteract the heavily criticism they have endured over the last year. So bringing to market a Nexus smartphone could be just what injects the momentum back into the HTC bandwagon. Not to mention, if the company also brings to market a truly great M10 then they will close out 2016 with a winner at the start of the year and a winner at the end of year. More than likely, two of the biggest devices of the year. And that’s not even taking into consideration, the third (2nd Nexus) smartphone that could be on the horizon.

Of course, whether it is a mistake or not will be largely dependent on the actual device(s). So what do we know about a possible HTC Nexus? Well, nothing really. In fact, depending on who you ask, the idea of HTC being the manufacturer behind the next Nexus is quite unlikely and the truth is, there is no evidence to suggest that HTC is actually onboard. However, there are two tips which have come through. The first tip, the one which has started the whole rumor ball rolling in the first place, is that HTC will release two Nexus smartphones, one with a 5-inch display and one with a 5.5-inch display. That is about the extent to the tip. The second tip which came through (the following day) suggested that the two codenames for the devices could be “T50” and “T55”. Names which do obviously link neatly to the sizes of the two reported devices. So while the leaks are limited, they do (very superficially) fit together. While some can debate the authenticity of the first leak which came from a tipster via Weibo, the second leak is from a name who is very familiar around this parts. Not to mention, a tipster who already has a proven record when it comes to HTC insider information.

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Of course, the biggest skepticism of the rumors is that HTC will make two Nexus devices. A year ago, that would seem utterly unrealistic, although, last year, Google changed the game by releasing two Nexus smartphones. Albeit, by different manufacturers, but two nonetheless. Which immediately does now make the idea of two smartphones this year, so much more plausible. And why wouldn’t Google gamble with two by the same manufacturer? If they have faith in HTC to build one, then they presumably have faith in them to build two. After all, much of the design of Nexus devices is largely thought to be Google’s doing anyway. They request what they want, what they need and maybe even how they should look and the OEMs bring those requests to life. HTC is a company known to produce physically good quality devices, so it stands to reason that they would bring to market excellent Nexus-built devices. Not forgetting that when it comes to Nexus, HTC is not exactly in unfamiliar or new territory. This is the company who has already produced two of the Nexus range. The most recent of which was the Nexus tablet from 2014, the Nexus 9 and the other Nexus device was the very first Nexus smartphone, the Nexus One.

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On that note, the Nexus One, if you want some further food for thought then consider this – Google recently announced the dates for their I/O event. While this was to be expected, they also announced the location for I/O and this was a little more surprising as they had decided to return to Mountain View. Return being the operative word as this is a location they have not used for some time. It was, however, the location of the very first Google I/O. A location-change which is designed to reflect the ten-years since “it all began“. If Google is in a reminiscing mood, then maybe it actually makes sense that they would want to partner up this year with the company who helped build the first Nexus…where…”it all began“. Makes sense, right? In fact, it could even be suggested that maybe one of the two HTC Nexus devices could be some sort of redesigned Nexus One. A redesign that boasts modern specs and a larger screen – a sort of anniversary edition Nexus One, maybe. That along with the larger and flagship other Nexus. If that is the case, then a year of remembering with Google could be the big plan for 2016.

Back to the question at hand and it is very difficult to know whether HTC building the Next Nexus would be a mistake or not. Yes, HTC has not had the best 2015, but this is a new year and HTC is a veteran Nexus partner. Where the problem could be for HTC, is if the situation arises where the One M9 is considered a ‘failure’ and the Nexus smartphone(s) are not quite what people had expected or wanted? This is when HTC could be in very deep trouble, as they will essentially have two failures on their hands. Again, three if you factor the ‘two Nexus’ rumor into the equation. So while building the next Nexus does have the power to help ignite the HTC brand in mobile again, it could also have the power to hammer one more nail into an already troubled mobile brand. The one thing that is clear – if HTC is building even one Nexus smartphone this year, then we have a very big make or break year ahead for HTC.