HTC has already started making waves, with the launch of the HTC U Ultra and the HTC U Play. Although the U Ultra has flagship specs, it's not actually HTC's flagship device for 2017, with a higher-spec device expected during the year.
So what can we expect from HTC's next flagship handset? Rumours suggest that it might be codenamed HTC Ocean, and with a couple of phones already launched, we're sifting through the remaining rumours to build a picture of HTC's next superphone.
HTC Ocean: The name
The HTC Ocean first appeared when a video surfaced showing an HTC handset with no physical controls, instead relying solely on gestures, touch and voice.
What's interesting about the HTC Ocean name - and makes this a rumour thread worth running with - is that no sooner had Evan Blass shared the HTC Ocean concept video, but another familiar name in HTC leaks joined the party. In isolation, a single leak could be dismissed, but with @LlabTooFeR adding three codenames to the mix, it makes things more real.
Just eliminate some questions— LlabTooFeR (@LlabTooFeR) January 14, 2017
HTC U Ultra (Ocean Note) - not 2017 flagship
HTC Ocean Master - cancelled
HTC Ocean - presumably 2017 flagship
As for the final go-to-market name, we don't know, but Chialin Chang, HTC's president of smartphone and connected devices business, confirmed in an interview with Engadget that it wouldn't be called HTC 11.
Then we have the small issue of an HTC Vive branded handset appearing in what appears to be an HTC promo video, which might suggest that HTC is making a bigger play to VR with its flagship handset.
Currently, we've no notion of what HTC's flagship will be called.
- HTC U Ultra preview: Premium phablet packed with power
- HTC U Play preview: Mid-range specs, but plenty bling
HTC Ocean: Touch navigation and a new UI
- Touch zones around body
- AI supported interaction
The original leaked video purports to demonstrate the "Sense Touch" user interface and was discovered on Danelle Vermeulen's website. Vermeulen is a visual and motion designer, although it is declared that the phone is a concept, raising some doubts as to how much can be drawn from this video in terms of design.
The video suggests that there will be touch-sensitive zones around the phone and demonstrates a heavier use of voice than we might typically go for. Although this looks like a concept, regular leaker Evan Blass took to Twitter again to say that HTC Ocean exists in late 2016.
No. Source: "Ocean is real and alive." https://t.co/aBUrpNYR5R— Evan Blass (@evleaks) October 18, 2016
More recently, this Sense Touch UI has seen a second appearance in another video. This appears to be much more professionally produced and is obviously an HTC handset, from the on-screen icons and the 10:08 time on the display, HTC's signature.
The interesting thing about this second video is that it shows people doing something with the handset, swiping down the edges to scroll through apps. Whether this is a curved display being used, or sensors in the body, isn't clear right now.
What perhaps pulls this video down is that in one sense the rear of the phone is seen out of focus and it looks a lot like the HTC One A9, so it's probably a dummy being used and not too useful from a design point of view.
However, the idea of a smarter device fits with HTC's AI angle on the U Ultra and Play - something designed to fit into your life through Sense Companion.
HTC Ocean: Design
- Metal likely
- IP57 rating expected
As this is an HTC flagship, we'd fully expect a full metal unibody and the recent launch of the HTC Bolt (Sprint) or HTC 10 Evo (everywhere else) introduces another missing feature and that's waterproofing. We'd expect HTC flagship to carry an IP57 rating, but we'd also expect it to lose the 3.5mm headphone socket in the process - with the U Ultra and U Play launching without a 3.5mm headphone jack, that's pretty much guaranteed.
What we're missing from the HTC rumours so far is a healthy set of handset photo leaks. One interesting video has appeared, however, that focuses on personalisation, showing off three different design approaches, called chemical, fabric and litmus.
HTC 2017? pic.twitter.com/ppONWlT5Mr— Evan Blass (@evleaks) January 8, 2017
Previous leaked photos showed off the HTC U Ultra so we're waiting to see more on design for future devices.
HTC Ocean: Hardware and specs
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 predicted
- 64GB storage + microSD expected
- USB Type-C and no 3.5mm headphone socket
HTC used the SD821 in the U Ultra, but also said to us that this wasn't the flagship, suggesting there's a 2017 device with higher spec coming, likely to be the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835. This has been subject to further speculation: firstly with the news that the Samsung Galaxy S8 would get first dibs on the new hardware in April, and then there's an interview with Chialin Chang, HTC's head of devices, in which the exec says: "When the next flagship CPU comes, HTC will be one of the very first tier doing that."
We'd expect at least 4GB of RAM and storage from 64GB, with support for microSD card expansion. The RAM might see a bump if HTC wants to push companies like OnePlus in the specs race, perhaps to 6GB.
One of the things that's likely to dictate the hardware specs of HTC Ocean is compatibility with Google's new VR platform Daydream, and boosted RAM may well help to bump that performance - and the appearance of HTC Vive emblazoned across the back of a handset suggests that's very much the case.
We've mentioned USB Type-C already and that's a certainly. Having developed its excellent USonic Hi-Res USB Type-C headphones and the funky auto-tuning feature, we'd expect this and BoomSound HiFi edition on board.
We'd expect to see a fingerprint scanner on the front of devices, but there's a chance that this will sit under the glass. We've seen a suggestion that the Samsung Galaxy S8 will be making this move and we've previously seen the hardware allowing this from Qualcomm. So far HTC's 2017 handsets have placed a fingerprint sensor under the display, as per 2016.
HTC Ocean: Display
- 5.5-inch 2560 x 1440 pixels likely
- Possibly AMOLED to support Daydream
- Could have curved edges
HTC opted for a 5.2-inch 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution on the HTC 10. There's a question over whether HTC will opt for LCD; AMOLED was used for the Pixel, and HTC used AMOLED in the One A9 too.
A rumour suggesting details of the display says it will be 5.5-inches, with a 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution. So far, so Pixel XL. With HTC putting that display into Google's phone, it's no surprise to see it mentioned again. However, the interesting suggest is that it will be curved, i.e., fairly close to the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge. That would be a change of direction for HTC, but might allow some of the smart interaction that's being demoed in those videos - the Sense Touch UI.
With a 5.7-inch U Ultra and a 5.2-inch U Play, a 5.5-inch flagship also makes sense in terms of size.
However, to be Daydream certified the phone currently needs to have an OLED panel and that might see HTC opt for AMOLED, like the Pixel XL, rather than the Super LCD 5 alternative - although equally, these criteria may change.
HTC Ocean: Software
- Android Nougat and HTC Sense
- Google Assistant
- HTC Sense Companion
- Sense Touch
One thing that's certain is that HTC's next flagship will launch with Android Nougat. For the HTC 10 the company took a lighter approach, stripping away a lot of the additional bloat for a cleaner Android experience, turning to stock Android apps rather than duplicating with its own and that's the software build on the HTC U Ultra and U Play.
We'd expect that to include the full Google Assistant. The talk from that concept video revolves around some of the things that Google Assistant already offers and with HTC Sense Companion, a new app designed to make your phone more personal using AI, all these things fit together nicely.
What's not clear at the moment is how far this touch concept will become a reality, but the push towards AI is definitely something that HTC is chasing down.
HTC Ocean: Cameras
- 12-megapixel rear camera, 1.55µm pixels, f/1.8 likely
- 16-megapixel front camera with UltraPixel mode expected
HTC's track record with cameras has been a little rocky over the past few years. Currently, there's no indication of where the company might turn. The leaked video, however, did feature a dual camera setup on the rear of the HTC Ocean. A dual camera also appears on the rear of the Vive handset.
HTC was one of the first companies to put a dual camera on a smartphone with the HTC One M8. That wasn't a huge success, but things have moved on and recently we've seen the likes of Apple adding a dual camera to the iPhone 7 Plus, although, we still think that dual cameras aren't perhaps worth the return.
With HTC fitting the Google Pixel with a pair of excellent cameras, however, it would be no surprise for HTC to use the same hardware again. That's suggested in a rumour appearing on Weibo, saying that "HTC 11" will have a 12-megapixel rear camera and 8-megapixel front camera, the same as the Google Pixel, although the U devices opted for a 16-megapixel front camera with a pixel combining UltraPixel mode.
HTC Ocean: Release date
HTC is likely to target early-2017 for the launch of its next flagship handset. The key dates to note would be around Mobile World Congress 2017, perhaps 26 February, just as the show is opening.
However, HTC eschewed the conference in 2016, running with its own virtual event which it may well repeat, to avoid the noise of the big launches at that show. With the U Ultra and U Play announced on 12 January and available from mid-February, a late-February launch might just be too soon.
Time will tell and we'll be sure to update with anything new that we learn.