During an interview with Walt Mossberg at Code Conference today, Sundar Pichai spent some time talking about the future of the Nexus line of smartphones. He mentioned that Google would put “more thought” into them, and upon further questioning added that Google plans to add more features atop stock Android to make the Nexus experience better. He also said that Google, which already works closely in tandem with OEMs, would be “more opinionated” about the design of the phones.

But what exactly does that mean?

Bye bye OEM branding

Among other things, we’ve heard from people familiar with the matter that Google is planning to remove the OEM branding from the incoming lineup of HTC-made Nexus phones. Nexus phones all the way back to the original Nexus One — also manufactured by HTC and released in January 2010 — have sported a stamp on the back with the name of the hardware maker. This year, that’s going to change.

Assuming that rumors are true, Google is making at least two devices with the flailing Taiwanese company, moving away from what appeared to be a rosy and beautiful partnership with Chinese OEM Huawei. The move to make devices with HTC is a curious one, but perhaps it makes sense.

HTC is pretty much dying, while the likes of Huawei and LG and Samsung are doing (relatively) well. If Google wants to be “more opinionated,” as Sundar says, with the next Nexus phones, Google needs to build them with a company that’s going to let them. HTC fits the bill nearly perfectly, because as they’ve proven with the HTC 10, they still know how to make a phone despite lagging sales. Removing HTC’s name — which, quite frankly, doesn’t come with the best connotations these days — would be something that Google could strong arm HTC into allowing.


Pixel-y Nexus?

Another important thing to note is that Google has this design language that, like it or not, has prevailed throughout the life of its own in-house hardware. The “Pixel” line, including the original Chromebook Pixel, 2nd generation Chromebook Pixel, and most recently, the Pixel C (which, notably, runs Android) all have the same aesthetic, and Google might intend to bring this to their upcoming line of Nexus phones. It’s becoming a recognizable look, as you can see:


To further this idea that Google wants to push its hardware design, HP noted at the launch of its latest Chromebook that the laptop was “designed in collaboration with Google.” The result of this redesign is both stunning and familiar. It features a brushed, anodized aluminum back (also to be found on the device’s interiors) and perhaps the company could impose similar design language on an HTC phone. HTC’s recently-launched 10 flagship probably wouldn’t need much redesigning to fit this style.

Better hardware optimization

Besides the outer appearance, Google likely wants to have even more control over the design of the phone as a whole — including its internals. The launches of both the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P (not to mention the dreaded HTC-made Nexus 9) were plagued with countless performance problems and that’s something that Google certainly wants to be able to launch a product without. This is probably the most obvious of many things that Google wants to improve with the phones that it puts its name on, but it’s a big one. One person told us last year that Google considered the Nexus 5X launch a “trainwreck”.

More Apple-like control

Really, it all comes down to what Amir Efrati detailed in his report in The Information earlier this year. The Mountain View company wants greater Apple-like control over its flagship phone program.

Google wants to “make Nexus phones more like the iPhone, which is controlled by Apple top to bottom, and strengthen Android’s brand overall in order to capture more share at the high end of the market that Apple dominates,” Efrati said in February of this year. “Google doesn’t want its revenue-generating services for high-end smartphones to be at the mercy of Apple like they are now.”

What do you think that Google has planned for the incoming lineup of Nexus phones? Let us know in the comments below.

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About the Author

Stephen Hall

Stephen is Growth Director at 9to5. If you want to get in touch, follow me on Twitter. Or, email at stephen (at) 9to5mac (dot) com, or an encrypted email at hallstephenj (at) protonmail (dot) com.