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Ed Baig takes a first look at HTC’s new iPhone look-alike, the One A9

Google and HTC announced a $1.1 billion deal that lets Google hire some of the Taiwanese smartphone maker’s employees and inks a non-exclusive license for HTC intellectual property, strengthening the search engine giant’s hardware bench. 

In a blog post Thursday, Google senior vice president Rick Osterloh said the deal would help Google with its hardware products five to 20 years in the future. Last year Google introduced its first Made by Google products, including Pixel smartphones and Google Home. It will unveil its second generation of products Oct. 4.

Google and HTC have had chummy relations before. HTC, which delivered hardware for Google’s Google Pixel phones last year, is expected to make at least one of the new Pixels likely to be announced by Google on Oct. 4. (LG out of Korea could produce another). Some of the HTC staff slated for Google are already working on Pixels, the companies said.

HTC said it’s not getting out of smartphones altogether. It plans to launch a new phone. It also said it would also expand the “ecosystem” around its virtual reality headset Vive. 

Google Pixel was lauded by critics bit it hasn’t been a huge sales hit. During the most recent quarter, Google Pixel accounted for only 0.2% of global smartphone shipments, according to Strategy Analytics.

HTC was once a dominant player in the global smartphone market, peaking at 10.8% in the third quarter of 2011, but held just 0.5% in the quarter that ended June 30, says Neil Mawston, executive director of London-based research firm Strategy Analytics.

Google has gone this route before, and not successfully, having purchased Motorola Mobility for about $12.5 billion in 2012, before selling it off to Lenovo for a fraction of the price only a couple of years later. Google did hold on to patents.

For its part, HTC was an early Android mainstay, and has had a strong track record in delivering phones that garnered critical approval. The problem, though, is that over the last several years, HTC branded phones have barely moved the needle sales-wise, as the company not only lost ground to the most dominant of all the Android players, Samsung, but also to various Chinese rivals such as Huawei.

A Google-HTC deal, either a wholesale takeover or an acquisition of assets, had been expected…..