HTC One with vanilla Android

The rumors are true — HTC and Google will collaborate on a 'Nexus user experience' version of the HTC One

Ever since the Samsung Galaxy S4 “Google Edition” announcement at Google I/O last week, rumors have been circulating that HTC might follow suit with a vanilla version of its own flagship device. Recently, Russell Holly of Geek.com and Paul O’Brien of MoDaCo have chimed in with reports that such a device is on the way. Today we can confirm through our own sources that despite official denials, the “Google Edition” HTC One is indeed real, and will be announced in the next week or so.

Let's take a look at what we know, and what it could mean.

Like the special “Google Edition” Galaxy S4, timely updates will be promised alongside the “stock” Android user experience on this HTC One. One source believes that in exchange for early access to upcoming Android code, “Google Edition” OEMs like HTC and Samsung will be subject to certain deadlines for preparing updates for their vanilla Android handsets. HTC would also enjoy higher margins on these vanilla HTC Ones, as additional licensing fees for certain Sense 5 software features would not apply. All in all, it’s a pretty good deal for everyone.

Questions raised

The existence of a Google Edition HTC One raises several questions, however. The current two-buttoned HTC One relies on an unsightly on-screen bar for legacy menu key support, so how would this work on a vanilla Android variant? It's unlikely that menu key functionality could be re-mapped to, say, a long-press of the back key, as it's previously been confirmed that Google doesn't want HTC hiding the menu button. The most direct (but unlikely) solution would be a change to the hardware key layout, assuming Google and HTC want to avoid losing screen space to an on-screen menu bar.

What's more, the presence of stock Android on an HTC One would likely rule out software tricks like Beats Audio. This could have a knock-on effect on features like the "BoomSound" front-facing speakers, which take advantage of Beats software enhancements. Similarly, the "UltraPixel" camera could likely lose some of its fancier imaging tricks -- side-by-side shots have already shown a marked reduction in image quality for HTC Ones running CyanogenMod 10.1-based firmware compared to HTC Sense 5.

Then there's the question of the power button-mounted IR blaster. Could this component lie dormant in the new Googlified HTC One, or will new software be included to take advantage of it? These are all things worth considering before assuming that an HTC One with stock Android might be better than one with Sense.

Regardless, it's great news for buyers in the U.S. wanting the latest vanilla Android from Google on the latest hardware from HTC. (We’re still in the dark about international availability of Google Edition handsets, unfortunately.) We’re expecting an official announcement in the next week, and it’s likely the Google Edition HTC One will go on sale around the same time as its Galaxy S4 counterpart -- though we’re not hearing any specifics on release dates or pricing just yet.

Given the choice, would you prefer vanilla Android on a Galaxy S4 or HTC One? Hit the comments and let us know.