Enlarge / Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3 (the big one) and the Flip 3 (the small one). Given the realities of the supply chain and Google’s relationship with Samsung, Google’s foldable products are likely to look quite similar.
Will the Google Pixel Foldable ever exist? We’ve seen lots of rumors and Android source code indicating that Google is going in this direction, as well as the announcement of a foldable version of Android. Well, a new one 9to5Google Report says a foldable pixel with a very popular camera sensor will hit the market in 2022.
Apparently the latest Google Camera app has a device detection flag called “isPixel2022Foldable”. Believe it or not, the Google Camera app is a decent indicator of release dates, having previously outed the Pixels 4 and 3a with flags like “isPixel2019MidRange” and “isPixel2019”.
The software side of the Pixel Foldable plan is definitely underway. Google recently announced Android 12L, a mid-cycle update to Android that focuses on features for tablets and foldable devices. The development of the Android team process promises that new Android software and hardware will be developed together (which is why there have always been Nexus or Pixel devices). With a large foldables publication, it makes sense that a pixel foldable is in the works. Android 12L will be out in March 2022, so this is likely the earliest foldable pixel release.
With Google recently holding back the introduction of Android 12 to adapt to the Pixel 6, you have to wonder if we will see a simultaneous introduction of foldable hardware and software. Google phones usually leak around five months before release, so if the March schedule is correct and we’re on the normal schedule, we should get more information soon. However, due to the global shortage of chips, it is difficult to describe a future hardware start as “normal”.
Previous rumors indicated that Google was working on it two devices, codenamed “Passport” and “Jumbojack”, but the camera app references a new foldable device codenamed “Pipit”. No matter what internal iterations Google applies, it’s hard to imagine a range of devices that don’t closely match the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Flip 3. Both of Google’s designs are expected to use Samsung’s foldable displays, which only come in so many form factors. Google’s goal of making hardware so that Android can evolve means that it doesn’t want to fundamentally differentiate anything from the competition anyway. The devices will most likely look like Samsung phones, just as the Pixel 6 is a cousin of the Galaxy S21, which has Samsung displays, chips and modems.
Of course, the leak of the Google camera app also contains some camera information: The Pixel foldables will not get the new camera hardware from Google in the Pixel 6. “Including the tried and tested Sony IMX363 sensor. Together with the earlier” IMX362 “revision, this was the main pixel sensor of the Pixels 2, 3, 3a, 4, 4a, 5 and 5a. Allegedly there should be two rear cameras (like the Pixel 5), a front camera and an inside camera, which also goes well with the design of Samsung’s foldables.
Enlarge / The Galaxy S21 Ultra (left) has better and more cameras than the Galaxy Z Fold 3 (right). Foldable devices cannot afford these huge camera bumps.
Camera downgrades are common in the world of foldable devices, with those devices geared more towards media and productivity than photography. Samsung’s Galaxy Z-fold 3 has inferior cameras than the flagship Galaxy S21 Ultra; The Fold 3 has a row of three similar 12 MP cameras on the rear instead of the S21 Ultra’s row of four rear cameras, including a 108 MP main camera and a periscope telephoto lens. The camera downgrade has to do with the device thickness.
While we typically reject calls for wafer-thin phones – longer battery life is often worth a thicker device – thickness does matter with foldable devices. Folding these devices in half will double their normal body thickness. So while the Pixel 6’s 12mm thickness (including the camera bar) is fine, stacking two Pixel 6s in a foldable package would put a 24mm thick brick in your pocket, which is definitely too bulky. Since cameras are the bulkiest component of a phone (hence the camera bump), shortening the cameras is an easy way to get a thinner device. To get back to the Samsung example, the S21 Ultra is 8.9mm thick, with a 2mm camera hump on top, while each half of the Fold 3 is 6.9mm thick.