Google’s Next Nexus Phones: What We Know So Far

People shopping for a smartphone

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Whether or not you’re hoping that Google begins making its own Nexus phones in the near future, Android fans everywhere will be excited to learn that a few details about the next Nexus phones are beginning to emerge. Dieter Bohn reports for The Verge that the Android rumor mill has decided that HTC will make two Android Nexus phones this year.

For those who haven’t been watching the rumor gain steam, fueled by speculation as well as by the accumulation of small pieces of evidence, the claim that HTC will make the next Nexus phones began with reports from a few Chinese sites. It was then confirmed by Evan Blass, and then by Android Police, which recently reported that “we can corroborate that this story is likely accurate,” and shared the codenames for the two devices. Here’s what we know so far about Google’s next Nexus phones.

Blass reported that HTC is working on two Nexus models, with the model numbers M1 and S1. And David Ruddock reports for Android Police that the codenames Google “currently plans to use for the devices” are Marlin and Sailfish. The names are in keeping with Google’s tradition of code-naming Nexus devices after aquatic life. The Nexus 5X was referred to internally as Bullhead, the Nexus 6P as Angler, the Nexus 6 as Shamu, and the Nexus 5 as Hammerhead.

Ruddock notes that while it seems likely that Marlin and Sailfish are, in fact, the M1 and S1 Nexus phones, it’s still possible that this “is a heck of a coincidence.” He notes that the fact that Sailfish is the name of an operating system does seem strange, even though Google’s codenames are internal and aren’t communicated directly to consumers. He posits, “Maybe a switch to Swordfish could occur? Maybe not. Either way, an ‘S’ fish with a pointy end.”

Aside from potential codenames, there’s little else known about Google’s next Nexus devices. But it’s been reported multiple times that the company is working on two Nexus phones in cooperation with HTC. Google seems to have codenamed the devices Marlin and Sailfish, and HTC seems to be internally referring to the devices as M1 and S1.

Unfortunately, there isn’t yet much other information on what you can expect from this year’s Nexus devices. As Android Police notes, “there’s just not much to go on yet that we trust, and we definitely don’t like to go out on a limb with Nexus rumors if we don’t feel the source information is trustworthy.” While two Nexus phones built by HTC are looking increasingly certain, it’s still not clear what they’ll include or even when they’ll be unveiled.

So where does the prospect of two HTC Nexus phones leave Android fans who were hoping that Google would take full control of its “pure Android” devices? Despite previous rumors, it’s looking less likely that 2016 will be the year that Google goes solo on the design and development of its next Nexus devices. A Google-built Nexus phone could enable Google to capture more of the market for high-end smartphones, a market that’s largely dominated by Apple’s iPhone.

A new Nexus strategy would see Google’s relationship with Nexus manufacturers shifting, toward a model that much more closely resembles the relationship that Apple has built with its contract manufacturers. Apple designs its phones, chips, and other components, and then third-party manufacturers build the devices. Google has reportedly been conflicted about changing its Nexus strategy, since it doesn’t want to anger its current manufacturing partners. But that fear should be offset by the many reasons it would be beneficial for Google to control its line of Nexus smartphones.

A Google-built Nexus phone would likely be more competitive against Apple’s iPhone, would enable Google to have a more meaningful influence over Android hardware, and might even expand the reach of the Nexus program beyond the small group of Android enthusiasts that it currently reaches. But it doesn’t seem that Google will build its own Nexus phones this year, and Bohn reports for The Verge that 2016 is “going to be yet another year where we’re left wondering why Google can’t step up and try making the whole Nexus enchilada itself, like it does with its Pixel devices.”

Even if 2016 isn’t the year that Google makes a Nexus phone itself, it may be laying the groundwork to do so in the future. Interestingly enough, The Information reported back in February that Google was interested in enlisting HTC to build a Google-branded Nexus device. That would mean that HTC would return to working as a manufacturer for hire, in a situation that would be similar to Foxconn’s relationship with Apple and other OEMs. Under such an arrangement, HTC would build the device to Google’s specifications, but the phone wouldn’t be co-branded. While HTC was reportedly conflicted about the prospect, the company would benefit from the added revenue and sales volume. With a new leader at the helm of the Nexus program, changes may be coming to Google’s Nexus phones, even if they aren’t wholly visible in the 2016 release.

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