Will the Google Pixel Foldable ever happen? We’ve seen plenty of rumors and Android source code pointing to Google going in that direction, plus the announcement of a foldable-focused Android release. Now, a recent 9to5Google report says that a Pixel foldable with a very familiar camera sensor is coming 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, as it previously outed the Pixel 4 and 3a with flags like “isPixel2019MidRange” and “isPixel2019.”
The software side of the Pixel Foldable plan is definitely happening. Google recently announced Android 12L, a mid-cycle update for Android that focuses on features for tablets and foldables. The Android Team’s development process promises that new Android software and hardware will be developed together (which is why there have always been Nexus or Pixel devices). So with a big foldables release, it makes sense that a Pixel foldable is in the works. Android 12L is due out in March 2022, so that’s probably the earliest any Pixel foldable will be released.
With Google recently holding back the launch of Android 12 to align with the Pixel 6, you have to wonder if we’ll see a simultaneous launch of foldable hardware and software. Google phones typically leak around five months before launch, though, so if the March timeline is correct and we’re on the normal schedule, we should get more information soon. Thanks to the global chip shortage, though, it’s hard to call any future hardware launch “normal.”
Previous rumors showed Google working on two devices, codenamed the “Passport” and “Jumbojack,” but the camera app references a new foldable device codenamed “Pipit.” No matter which internal iterations Google goes with, it’s hard to imagine any set of devices that doesn’t closely align with 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 it can develop Android means it doesn’t want anything dramatically different from the competition anyway. The devices will most likely look like Samsung phones in the same way that the Pixel 6 is a cousin of the Galaxy S21, which features Samsung displays, chips, and modems.
Of course, the Google camera app leak also includes some camera info: The Pixel foldables won’t be getting Google’s new camera hardware in the Pixel 6. 9to5Google’s Kyle Bradshaw says the device has “essentially the same camera sensors as last year’s Pixel 5,” including the tried-and-true Sony IMX363 sensor. Along with the earlier “IMX362” revision, this has been the main Pixel sensor on the Pixel 2, 3, 3a, 4, 4a, 5, and 5a. Reportedly, there will be two rear cameras (just like on the Pixel 5), one front camera, and one interior camera. Again, this information maps nicely to the design of Samsung’s foldables.
Camera downgrades are common in the world of foldables, with these devices being focused more on media and productivity than on photography. Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3 has inferior cameras to the flagship Galaxy S21 Ultra; the Fold 3 has a lineup of three similar 12 MP cameras in the rear instead of the S21 Ultra lineup of four rear cameras, including a 108 MP main camera and a periscope telephoto lens. The camera downgrade has to do with device thickness.
While we usually push back against demands that phones be wafer-thin—longer battery life is often worth a thicker device—thickness does matter for foldables. Folding these devices in half doubles the regular body thickness. So while the Pixel 6’s 12 mm thickness (including the camera bar) is fine, stacking two Pixel 6s together in a foldable would put a 24 mm thick brick in your pocket, which is definitely too bulky. Since cameras are the bulkiest component of a phone (hence, the camera bump), cutting down the cameras is an easy way to get a thinner device. Going back to the Samsung example, the S21 Ultra is 8.9 mm thick, with a 2 mm camera bump on top of that, while each half of the Fold 3 is 6.9 mm thick.