HMS Vanguard, which is not a phone

This industry has no shortage of irksome buzzwords (see: "iPhone killer," "phablet," "innovation" — I could go on.) But one that's been almost entirely stripped of all meaning is the term "flagship." It used to be that a flagship — the very best product in a series, intended to bear the standard of a particular brand — was easy to define. Then, with multiple high-end phone releases every year from the big brands, things became murkier.

With numerous product lines — like the Samsung Galaxy S and Galaxy Note lines, and LG's G and V series — intersecting, and each one laying claim to the "flagship" title, confusion can quickly set in. The crown is either shared between multiple products, or rapidly passed along the line in a matter of months. (And the less said of the "mid-range flagship," or the "entry-level flagship," the better.)

As we head into the early spring silly season for new Android phone launches, the specter of the Android "flagship" once again raises its head. This week we got the HTC U series, a new "flagship" range from HTC, consisting of one entirely forgettable phone (the U Play) and one promising entrant (the U Ultra) hamstrung by a handful of insane product decisions, an eye-watering price and a two-month wait before shipping. In the case of HTC, that's led to some questioning whether the U Ultra is it for the Taiwanese phone maker for 2017. (It almost certainly isn't, but HTC's liberal use of the word "flagship" does it no favors here.)

This week we also learned of a new Huawei flagship landing at Mobile World Congress, likely the rumored P10. Huawei has only just put its "flagship" Mate 9 on sale, with launches in the U.S. and UK this past week, yet already there's talk of the next big thing.

HTC has a new flagship series. Meanwhile we're just a few weeks off the next Huawei flagship announcement.

Will the P10 supersede the Mate 9? Well, no. The earlier MWC launch (as opposed to the usual April event) is probably an indicator that Huawei's going to repackage the Mate 9's internals into a more compact device, as opposed to leapfrogging it with a faster CPU or fancy new camera tech. (As happened with the Mate 8 and P9.) Nevertheless, the announcement of a new "flagship" just a month and a half after the old one first went on sale could be problematic. It'll be interesting to see how Huawei handles a product lineup consisting of a potential P10 (let's say 5.2 inches), P10 Plus (possibly 5.5), Mate 9 (5.9) and Mate 9 Pro (also 5.5). (To say nothing of the inevitable Honor 9, when that arrives.)

Each of these could be considered a flagship, though Huawei won't necessarily sell all of them in the same markets. Nevertheless, where any crossover happens, perhaps with the Mate 9 Pro and P10 Plus, there's plenty of potential for confusion.

I'm as guilty as anyone for splashing around the word "flagship" in headlines, articles and videos. It's an easy term to fall back on — one that's attention-grabbing, and that we all more or less understand.

Some other Android-related occurances of late:

  • Not to pick on HTC too much this week, but oh my, this thoroughly cringey press release. U Question Why.
  • The LG G6 is shaping up to be interesting, based on LG's recent teasers. I'm fearful LG may have just swapped one gimmick (modularity) for another ("18:9" display.) What LG needs above all is a device that gets the fundamentals right — hopefully it can do that when its big, eye-catching feature is just a slightly weird-shaped screen.
  • Speaking of which, whatever happened to the LG Rolling Bot? That's mostly a rhetorical question — it's almost certainly been canned. But I'd love to get my hands on one, mainly for decorative reasons. I'd put it right next to my Nexus Q.
  • This design (and variations of it) have been doing the rounds as a possible Galaxy S8 this past couple of weeks. Wouldn't surprise me if it was close to the new "flagship" we're expecting in April. But at the same time, it wouldnt's surprise me if all these leaks — including those from case makers — turn out to be nothing more than fan concepts.
  • Finally, something not worthy of its own news post, because this stuff can be faked, but I'd expect the next Android version to be 7.1.2, probably landing in early March in line with Google's new quarterly maintenance release thing. Lots of traffic hitting our servers from Pixels + Pixel XLs on 7.1.2 over the past 2 months — slowly building since mid-November, which usually indicates Googlers testing a new version.

That's it for this week. Smooth sailing for the week ahead!

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