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Google’s foldable cellphone plans embody two gadgets, model Android 12.1

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Enlarge / These are the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 devices, but Google’s foldable hardware is reportedly set to follow in Samsung’s footsteps.

Samsung / Ron Amadeo

A Google Pixel Fold is pretty much inevitable. Samsung’s foray into the hardware front is making foldables the next big Android form factor, and the Android team has already started thinking about foldables by incorporating basic support into Android 10 for the first Galaxy Fold launch. Part of the goal of Google Phones is to give the Android team in-house hardware to experiment with and build the next version of Android. So if foldables are going to be the next big thing, Google has to do one.

That’s pretty much what the rumor mill is pointing to, as Google reportedly plans to combine the best of both worlds currently on the market: Samsung-style foldable hardware with an iPad OS-style dock interface for easier multitasking.

First about the hardware: The Pixel 6 is a good place to think about the upcoming Pixel-Foldables. Google’s upcoming slab smartphone is very Samsungy, with a new “Google Tensor” SoC jointly developed with Samsung’s Exynos division and a Samsung modem with mmWave – the Galaxy S21 doesn’t even use a Samsung mmWave Modem. The new main camera sensor is a Samsung GN1 with 50 MP, and the 120 Hz display will no doubt also come from Samsung. The foldables are likely to have similar makeup: a ton of Samsung hardware DNA with Google software.

It sounds like we’re getting this: Google versions of Samsung’s two major foldable styles, the Galaxy Z Fold and Galaxy Z Flip phones. Google’s Galaxy Fold device – a phone that opens into a tablet with a larger screen – has long been codenamed “Passport”. We’ve seen reports that the device will open up to a 7.6-inch display (the same as the Fold 3), and several “Passport” references have been discovered in the Android code base.

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There hasn’t been a lot of news about the Pixel Passport (not the final name) lately, and there has never been any live images or design leaks of the device, so we wondered if the device was still working. And with the global chip shortage still wreaking havoc, it wouldn’t be entirely unexpected for Google to postpone some of its experimental devices to a later date. However, the latest news from legendary speaker Evan Blass claims the pass will be out later this year:

I’ve heard from someone I trust that the Foldable Pixel – code name: Passport, retail branding: unknown – will actually hit the market before the end of the year. Apparently they’ve been working on this device for over two years, and if the P6 is any clue, it’s worth a look.

– E (@evleaks) September 20, 2021

The other foldable news from Google comes from 9to5Google, which says a second foldable device is coming, code-named “Jumbojack”. Aside from the fold-style pass, which is a phone / tablet hybrid, this device would be like the Galaxy Flip, a full-size smartphone that folds in half like an old-school flip phone. 9to5Google says it has found “several cases of jumbo jack as a test device” for the various special folding modes of devices like the Galaxy Flip.

On the software side, reports XDA Developers, the Android team is apparently planning an update for Android that would focus on foldable functions. We have no idea what that would be called, but the community dubbed it “Android 12.1” as it would end up between Android 12 and Android 13, which shows frequently used and recently used apps. XDA’s Mishaal Rahman already enabled the feature in Android 12 Preview 2, but the feature hasn’t improved since then, apparently because it’s postponed to this mid-cycle release. As Rahman writes:

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Google’s internal AOSP code base includes several improvements to the current barebones taskbar functionality. Code changes implementing the Taskbar tutorial describe some of the planned features. First, when entering the tutorial, an animation is displayed, described as a “wave”, in which symbols are scaled and moved up and then down again. The tutorial then explains how to launch two apps in split screen view by dragging, touching and holding an app icon to either side of the screen to hide (dock) the system tray at any time and add your favorite apps / predicted apps in the system tray. Once set up, the taskbar will stay at the bottom of the screen, but will automatically hide when an app goes full screen.

It all sounds a lot like an iPad, which I think is great. iPads completely dominate the tablet market and the new dock / taskbar interface is ideal for multitasking productivity. Keep in mind that this is a foldable phone, so Google is trying to cram iPad-style multitasking into your pocket.

Rahman even found a tiny picture of the function in Google’s code base:

It’s not clear when Android 12.1 would be out, but a good guess is that Google will be bringing out the foldable Pixels and its foldable software in a big release. If all of this happens at once, presumably after the Pixel 6 and Android 12 launch, there aren’t many months left in the year. Maybe we will write it down for December?

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