The Google Pixel Fold and all its tantalizing potential remain a rumor, as only the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro were on show during the company’s October 19 event. I’m not saying the Pixel 6 isn’t good enough. Not at all — it certainly appears to have all the right ingredients to push Google smartphones forward compared to previous models.
But what they don’t do is push the mobile hardware industry forward, at least not in the same way a folding smartphone would. At a time when interest in folding smartphones is at its highest, Google has missed a golden opportunity.
Fold me once, Google
Google has made attractive, colorful, and apparently extremely capable new smartphones with the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. They both look like they have good cameras, an interesting new processor, and a design that doesn’t threaten to put me into a coma — all at a very competitive price. Unfortunately, the same can usually be said about a new OnePlus, Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, or Oppo phone right after launch, so although these are big steps for Google, they’re not really unusual in the wider industry.
A folding smartphone is groundbreaking and unusual. If it had put a Pixel Fold up for pre-order alongside the Pixel 6, the only company Google would have as a challenger is Samsung. It’s also realistically the only one that can truly take on Samsung at the moment, as Pixel phones are adored by us techy folk but Samsung rules the mainstream. A Pixel Fold wouldn’t be the same as Xiaomi releasing a folding smartphone, as the audience that would buy the device would be quite different, and Xiaomi doesn’t have any plans to enter the U.S. market.
Yes, it would probably be expensive, but we can look at the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, which cost $600 and $900 and represent good value despite the specs. Even if it cost up to twice that at $1,600 to $1,900, it’d be about the same as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3. The Google store broke because enough people were clamoring to pre-order the Pixel 6. I assume the entire internet would break under the weight of folding Pixel phone pre-orders if Google had launched one with a special $99-per-month Pixel Pass.
Material You and Android 12
The Pixel 6 proves Google has got the hang of smartphone design; applying the same theme to a Pixel Fold would likely produce a winner, especially if it also came in some funky colors. However, it’s the software where Google could have made a real impact. The Pixel 6 phones come with Android 12 and the new Material You design, and it looks beautiful.
Samsung’s OneUI works well on the Galaxy Z Fold 3, but it’s not without problems, including a poor typing experience and some app compatibility issues, such as Instagram. Google is working on software for foldable with Android 12.1 and is even promoting Android on foldable smartphones with a blog post entitled “The best of Google available on Samsung Galaxy foldables,” followed by a list of how Android has been adapted to the new large-screen layout.
What a shame Google can’t now write, “The best of Google now available on the Pixel Fold.”
What a shame Google can’t at present write, “The best of Google now available on the Pixel Fold.” If there’s one company perfectly positioned to make folding smartphone software work seamlessly and look amazing, it’s Google. Now that we’re seeing how fun and exciting Android 12 actually looks and how Android is gradually becoming more usable on third-party interfaces, it’s even more frustrating that the Pixel Fold is still a rumor.
No chance for 2021?
Does the Pixel Fold’s no-show just indicate the rumors are wrong, that such a device doesn’t even exist? Details are definitely thin on the ground, but it’s still coming this year, according to long-time phone leaker @evleaks on Twitter. They also indicated it’ll eventually be called the Passport (take that, BlackBerry) when it’s released.
There are now only about 10 weeks until the end of 2021, and October 19 was the absolute best opportunity Google had to show off new Pixel hardware. Not only is interest in folding smartphones at its highest — due to Samsung’s superb new hardware and lower prices — but also because all eyes were on Google today. Sure, there are no rules to follow here, and a separate event wouldn’t be that unusual, but while Samsung can pull such activities off, it doesn’t seem like something Google would waste its time doing when a Pixel event was already on the calendar.
A Pixel Fold would have shown that Google isn’t afraid to mix it up and help drive the mobile industry in a new direction. I wanted it to take more of the risks that made many of us fall in love with the company and show those not producing folding smartphones, for whatever reason, that software is not a hang-up anymore — and Samsung doesn’t have to be the only game in town.
A good-looking, Pixel 6-like folding device matched with clean, feature-packed, long-lasting, functional, and usable software would have shifted Google from being known mostly as a software innovator to being a software and hardware innovator. I’ll remain forever hopeful it’ll still happen in 2021, but realistically, it seems like a folding Pixel smartphone is something we’ll have to hopefully look for in 2022.