Google's Nexus phones don't have the instant recognition of a Samsung or LG handset, but they do play an important role in the Android ecosystem. As such, they draw a special kind of attention from Android enthusiasts. Each year sees a fresh cycle of rumors, speculation and leaks as a new generation of Android device, showcasing the latest the OS has to offer, comes into focus.
This year, many of the most credible rumors surrounding the 2016 Nexus phone (or phones) points to HTC being the manufacturer of choice. And aside from just how likely these individual reports are, there are plenty of logical business reasons why HTC might want to hop onboard the Nexus train. Let's take a look at why it almost makes too much sense to not happen.
HTC is becoming ever more partner-focused. For VR, it's Valve. For fitness, it's UA. And for phones, it's Google.
Firstly, HTC has been moving towards a partner-centric approach across all its business areas — in effect, returning to its roots as an ODM (original device manufacturer), but with much more input into the end product, and a more visible consumer-facing brand. Vive, HTC's VR endeavor, sees it partnering with PC gaming giant Valve. In connected devices, it's Under Armour. And in phones, increasingly, it's Google. It's a natural response to the company's precarious financial position.
This new, closer partnership with Google began with the HTC One A9, and was more visible than ever in the recently announced HTC 10. At a meeting ahead of that phone's launch, HTC's Head of Global Product Marketing, Darren Sng, told Android Central that the company's close relationship with Google was "non-exclusive," implying that it wasn't getting any special treatment. Nevertheless, the Google partnership has been a major pillar of the last two big HTC releases. That's not something you could say about a Samsung, LG or Huawei.
And in contrast to those major players in the Android world, there's far more highly visible Google stuff on HTC's recent phones. HTC Sense now looks and feels more like Google's OS than ever before. And the company leans more and more on Google's app and service ecosystems, with HTC's own apps being gradually phased out.
A Nexus collaboration would be a natural extension of this partnership, bringing the full Google software experience to an HTC-made phone, and strengthening that relationship for a possible "HTC 11" and beyond.
Unlike an HTC-branded phone, getting involved with the Nexus program would allow HTC to piggyback on Google's marketing machinery, and potentially have a large, influential partner backing them in any carrier negotiations. Sure, the Nexus series' success within the global carrier system is mixed, especially within the United States. But consider that HTC's flagship for the 2016 will be available on just two of the big four UK operators, and just one carrier in Canada. Meanwhile the HTC 10 will miss out on valuable AT&T shelf space in the U.S. There's only one way to read that: carriers are losing confidence in HTC.
Nexus is a niche brand, but increasingly so is HTC.
Nexus is admittedly a niche brand. But at this point that statement increasingly applies to HTC as well. Google could help it break out of this rut in a couple of ways. Firstly, by building brand value for HTC through its logo appearing alongside one of the world's most valuable brands in Google-funded advertisements. And secondly, simply by getting HTC-made phones on store shelves, particularly outside the U.S. There's an undeniable halo effect involved with Nexus for a manufacturer wanting to grow (or in HTC's case, re-grow) its phone business.
Nexus phones tend to be more affordable (and thus less profitable) than the average Android flagship. But we're past the point where these were shipped online-only at bargain bin prices. Take the Nexus 6P, which sold for $499 in the U.S. and £449 in the UK. It's not iPhone money, but nor is it a trivial amount of cash — there's money to be made there.
Google also has good reason to prop up HTC in its time of need.
What about Google, then? Why might this mobile giant want to partner with a phone maker that has certainly seen better days? Well, Google benefits by keeping HTC in the game, and by the diversity it continues to bring to the Android ecosystem. With HTC around and competing — even in a small way — it's just a bit harder for the likes of Samsung grow too big to handle.
What's more, the current partnership for HTC 10 by its nature gives Google valuable control over the services and apps used by HTC customers. Why wouldn't Google want to strengthen the maker of products over which it has such influence? Awarding this year's Nexus to HTC means Google can help prop up the company, so it can continue making its own phones where Google apps and services take center stage.
As for one of the wackier rumors going around — that HTC has secured exclusive rights to make Nexus phones for the next three years — it would certainly be unprecedented, and contrary to how the Nexus bidding process has worked in years past. It's unlikely, but not impossible, especially if Google cares about the longterm viability of HTC's phone business.
Time will tell whether HTC's new, closer relationship with Google will spawn the rumored duo of Nexus phones later in the year. Many Android enthusiasts have fond memories of the original HTC Nexus One, and an updated Nexus phone from the Taiwanese firm could be something for fans to get excited about — as well as making business sense for HTC and Google.
Would you buy an HTC-built Nexus phone? What would do you want to see from the next Google-branded handsets? Shout out in the comments and let us know!