The Nexus smartphone for 2016 could be manufactured by HTC. That's a rumour that has been circulating for some time, but it could be the beginning of a new partnership spanning the next three years.

According to sources of Chinese site MyDrivers, HTC has signed a contract with Google's parent company Alphabet that makes it the Nexus smartphone manufacturer for the next three years. The deal, said to last three years, may involve HTC manufacturing more than one phone a year.

What's unclear is if HTC will be the sole manufacturer. In 2015 the Nexus 6P was made by Huawei while the Nexus 5X was built by LG and we've seen other manufacturers lining up Nexus tablets too. From the MyDrivers wording it appears HTC has the entire Nexus contract, but that could easily be a mistranslation or misinterpretation.

HTC kicked off the Nexus programme with the Nexus One and has been struggling with smartphone sales of late. A longer-term Nexus deal could be a welcome relief for company and give HTC time to regain form.

The future of the Nexus programme has seen a lot of debate recently - not only surrounding the next device manufacturer - but also the nature of the programme itself. It was reported that Google wanted to move it from a partnership with a manufacturer, to an arrangement more like the Pixel programme, where it directly designs the device itself.

HTC would be a good choice: inking a three-year deal would provide some consistency, and HTC has a long history in OEM manufacture. This could be the future of the Nexus programme and it could be very different to how it has operated in the past.

READ: Next Nexus (2016): What's the story so far?