HTC, M9, and the ultimate shell game

image HTC One March 1 invite

A curious thing is happening in this year’s lead up to Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress, the industry’s premier event for showcasing upcoming smartphones and tablets: one company usually plagued by leaks well before launch, is now less than one week away from its March 1st presentation, and the confusion over its impending announcements could not be greater.

The company in question is, of course, HTC, and almost nothing about its presentation isn’t shrouded in mystery. The one certainty, really, is that it will be unveiling the successor to its popular One (M8), widely established to drop the parentheses in its One M9 branding. But besides the mere existence of said phone, nearly nothing else seems to be known with any certainty: not the design of the handset (though the specs are pretty much a lock), not the character of the accompanying wearable, tipped to have been developed in partnership with UnderArmour (is it a smartwatch? a fitness band? something else entirely?)

Another mystery is the supposed existence of an even higher end handset, popularly known as the One M9 Plus (or codename, Hima Ultra). Said premium device has already been pictured several times in purported photographs and renders, but those images conflicted on the details, spoke little of the specs, and revealed even less about intended launch and release dates.

If HTC does indeed have an upmarket M9, veiled in secrecy and waiting to be unmasked, it has done a superb job in keeping it hidden. Other than whispers and conflicting depictions, the supposed QHD resolution, fingerprint-scanning model has been ghost-like in its appearance at the usual haunts: no benchmarks have been seen, no retailers have leaked it, no case makers have posted seemingly-legitimate evidence of its existence, and no public databases have revealed a model that could fit the bill.

One explanation for this, really the only plausible explanation, is that even with an early March MWC launch, the so-called M9 Plus is not scheduled to go on sale until months after the regular M9. This would explain its seeming total absence from the requisite pre-launch venues, much like the original iPhone (and more recently, the Apple Watch) was able to avoid detection by announcing so long before retail sales were slated to begin.

The risk here, of course, is that consumers may overlook the regular M9 in waiting out the eventual release of the more pricey M9 Plus. But that seems only partly likely — at a more expensive price point and with at least a few months delta between the releases, the Plus would represent an exercise in patience that relatively few, appropriately-funded consumers would make the wait for. And HTC would have been buoyed somewhat to learn that the breakdown between iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus sales skewed heavily in favor of the smaller, more affordable handset.

But the existence of the M9 Plus isn’t even the biggest mystery mobile watchers are facing this time around: the design of the One M9 is also being hotly debated. There are currently two possibilities on the table, and frankly, each one is incredulous and unprecedented in is own way. The first possibility is that HTC has chosen to release nearly the exact same design for the M9 as it used for the M8, down to the positioning of the speaker grills and front-facing sensors and selfie cam. In fact, the only visual cue that one would be observing an M9 and not an M8 would be the rumored 20-megapixel camera on the back, replacing the ultrapixel-powered, dual-lens Duo Camera on the M8.

The other possibility, which would require a lot of planning and no small amount of trickery on the part of HTC, is that M9 actually features a brand new design, one with repositioned speakers, sensors, and camera, and glass covering both the front and back faces of the handset. But for one to believe this second scenario, you have to accept the possibility that HTC is not only seeding decoy handsets to its early reviewers, developers, and testers, but that it’s gone a step further, and deployed entire packs of misleading, publication-ready renders to its carrier and retail partners.

While the former obfuscation would not be unprecedented — HTC did the same thing in 2013 when it sent out versions of the M7 with dummy cases on them — seeding partners with what are essentially placeholder images could lead to real problems down the line, especially in terms of marketing assets that would have been created, at no small expense, with the misleading imagery. All of those assets would need to be recreated — and if, like last year, the M9 goes on sale nearly immediately after launch — with no small amount of haste.

However, this theory, as unlikely as it appears on the surface, has two major attributes in its favor. The first is simply logical: HTC has been hyping up this event quite thoroughly, sending out invitations over a month early, telling us to expect something huge, etc. Would it really do that just to treat a room full of travel-weary journalists to a phone that’s a near doppelganger of last model year’s? It strains the bounds of credibility to imagine such hype for such potential letdown, especially from a company that rarely, if ever, repeats its designs so exactly from one year to the next.

The second piece of evidence is a bit more technical, and it has to do with an image released at the end of January depicting both the alleged M9 and M9 Plus. What made this image so interesting is that it showed designs which matched, almost completely, the descriptions of the phones provided to HTC Source by an inside source of theirs. Two possibilities exist: either the renders were quickly created using the leaked info as a guideline, or they matched so closely because they do in fact represent the shipping design of the HTC M9.

In less than a week, all will become clear, but already, one thing is certain: HTC has done a better job in keeping its secrets this year, and building up hype for its flagship release, than we’ve ever seen the company achieve before.

25 Responses to “HTC, M9, and the ultimate shell game”

  1. Thank you, good sir. I hope you’re right. Enjoyed the read. I would much prefer for the M9 to turn out as the renders you showed in January. As you implied, it would be too much of a let down for them to release an exact image copy of last year’s flagship. Not that there was anything wrong with the M8, but still.

    • Why would it be a letdown? The design of the M8 was practically perfect. To say a smartphone maker should radically change the design instead of making improvements to an already great design is just stupid.

      • The M8 wasn’t practically perfect. The evleaks render of the M9 was received by many as a nicer design than the M8, so clearly there was room for improvement. Reducing the speakers to slits at the top and bottom allowed the black bar to be absorbed by the rest of the body and the front facing camera looks nicer in the center. The M9 leak Evan provided showed and much more valanced, refined device over the M8.

        • Andrew pretty much summed up my thoughts on the benefits of a redesigned front. If HTC wants to keep the same formula as the M7 and M8, they could very much do so. I wouldn’t be too bothered by it albeit my disappointment, however, I still would like them to reduce those bezels, or at least offer up a way to not have to resort to that black bar that takes up space which could be use for a larger screen, or a more compacted phone.

  2. htc is not stupid make the same design for two years … only appl can do this and they sell like crazy … i cant beleive what i just said

    • Only because a majority of Android fanboys think that each new smartphone should feature a radical new design which frankly is a stupid thing to think. Having the same design is smart. It builds brand awareness and if the design is already near perfect it shouldn’t be changed but refined.

      • I do agree with you but it just that a company that’s known for spectacular mobile designs, should be delivering a fresh design at least for the flagship although not radically new. It’s a pre-conceived expectation from everyone who loves HTC designs and moreover it’s the design which has been a key differentiator from other brands.

    • iPhone 3G/4/5/6 are prototypes.
      iPhone 3GS/4S/5S are final products.
      that why

  3. “M9 actually features a brand new design, one with repositioned speakers, sensors, and camera, and glass covering both the front and back faces of the handset.”

    Glass on both the front and *back* faces of the handset? I assume this is a mistake in the article – HTC will be sticking with the full aluminium build I believe.

    And Evan, your comment saying basically that HTC ‘have been hyping this phone up for a month, would they really just dish out another One M8 looking phone’ – I’m kinda thinking yeah they might actually. The marketing teams job is to hype up their product, irrespective of what it looks like or how similar it is to the previous model. I don’t think they’re selectively choosing when to hype up their phones based on how different it looks to the previous model. They’re trying to sell as many devices as they can, so they’re going to try and make as much noise about it as they can, whether it deserves it or not. I’m not buying your comment there, implying that they would only hype it up if there was something different from the past.

    But I hope to hell you’re right, Evan, and the real design is the one you leaked. But after the marketing shots on that German retailer of the M8 looking M9 leaked out (and a lot of professional-looking images on top of that), I’m not so sure. Why would HTC even make those marketing images if that’s not he device? Just to deliberately troll websites?

    Another thing you mentioned the picture of the M9 and M9 Plus that you leaked and you ask how did that picture come about so quickly after a description was given to HTC Source….well you leaked that image. You tell us how that image was obtained? Was it one whipped up quickly, or was it something that had been around and handed to you? Sounds like you didn’t create the image yourself, so a trusted source gave you the image? You’d know more than we would about how that image came to be.

    I just don’t know at the moment. Two credible arguments from both sides. Do I see HTC playing it safe and re-releasing the One M8? Not really. But then the press shots (which look legitimate, which Upleaks has said lines up with his info, which Android Police believe are legitimate). Seems more people believe against you than with you, Evan.

    I really hope you’re right mate.

  4. Brandon Nodnarb

    I actually prefer the design of the m7 to the m8. It doesn’t have any protrusions anywhere on the device, the speaker grills are the same size and the ir blaster is conveniently placed inside of the power button as opposed to all across the top. also, as i prefer, the headphone jack is at the top. Just a better design, all it was missing was a great camera and SD expansion, didn’t even mind the bezel because they added functionality to it by placing capactitive buttons there.

  5. str8loungin

    There have been tons of renders that take into account an ‘all glass front with the boomsound speakers within the glass’ or something along those lines. Those renders are way better looking in all aspects than these latest that look nearly identical to the M8. Samsung is doing it right this year by doing something ‘edgy’ and different. If HTC releases a minor tweaked chassis from last year as the M9, I will be severely disappointed.

  6. I think the biggest tell that it will not look like m8 is the nexus 9 which is made by HTC . that tablet already has the all glass front with slots for speakers like the alleged m9 render did. Don’t think we will see metal speaker grills again.

  7. Another good thing to take into consideration with HTC and a possible redesign are their more recently released devices. The HTC Desire Eye, the HTC Desire 826 and the HTC Nexus 9. They were all devices whereby HTC decided to test out what else they could do with the design of a phone/tablet while offering the best perks they’ve always been known to offer.

    You have the hidden slits for front-firing stereo speakers in the Eye and the 826, as well as you have the bottom and top slits on the Nexus 9
    covered by a front glass panel. Can a conclusion be drawn that maybe those 3 devices were experiments for the M9? In my opinion those early renders that Evan came out with back in January seemed very on point with what HTC could potentially do with their next flagship.

    It doesn’t seem like a stretch given their last big 3 devices, that they might have found a perfect middle ground to
    combine all those 3 along with the premium built of the M8.

  8. Rich Howitt

    I was so excited to see the shots that Evan posted in January. I had to have that phone! It was absolutely gorgeous!! Given his track record, I truly hope he is correct. I think a whole lotta people would be blown away if that phone came to fruition. Please HTC, make it so!! You’ve got an Apple convert coming your way if you do!!

  9. Kwadwo Boadu

    I also believe that HTC have done a superb job at hiding what the HTC One M9 will look like, creating even more excitement and anticipation for the launch of the device. Something I must say however, is I hope they do go with the Gold front and silver back colours, because that looked amazing!

  10. Well, looks like Evan was wrong on this one. A whole bunch of promotional videos for the M9 have leaked out – it looks exactly like the M8.

    Sorry Evan. Looks like your source was bogus. Shame too as you’d given us all hope for that exciting new design.

    • Could still be the greatest decoy ever, there is something somewhat strange about the videos if you look close enough? As far as M9 design goes I really hope its the jan renders as these recent leaks look exactly like the M8 as we all know but with the tiniest trimming of the bezels and new camera, surely HTC would change the design so it didn’t look like the M8 like they changed the M8 from the M7?! Todays quote from HTC “We still have a surprise for you March 1st”…

  11. i agree with evan htc is not stupid to do the same design over and over again for two years guys … i mean think about it they may not make it perfect no phone is perfect but they will surprise us


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