A few days before Samsung’s Galaxy S20 announcement event, Google also started teasing the Unpacked event, suggesting that it’ll show up on stage to announce some sort of new partnership. It had to be all connected to the Galaxy Z Flip, a new foldable Samsung was supposed to launch. Then came the Oscars, where Samsung actually showed off the unannounced clamshell device, complete with its new video chat in laptop mode feature. That was another indication that Google would help Android behave that way. It turns out that Google did show up at Unpacked. Google’s senior vice president of platforms and ecosystem Hiroshi Lockheimer talked about the strong Samsung-Google partnership over the years and announced the various features the S20 series will get, including the built-in Google Duo video chat, and the exciting Live Caption video caption functionality that was a Pixel exclusive so far. More importantly, Google also helped with the Z Flip’s split-screen mode feature that makes the whole laptop mode possible. So, is Google making a Pixel that folds?
Google appeared on stage when Samsung first unveiled the Fold’s new multi-app interface, which we saw as a sign that Android will come with native support for foldable devices in the near future. And if foldables are the future, Google has to be interested in the new form factor. At the same time, Google hasn’t been able to sell expensive hardware as well as Apple or Samsung. No matter how exciting the latest Pixel might seem, it fails to sell that well. A foldable device will be an even more expensive bet. Not to mention that Google is taking a more careful approach when it comes to launching new features. In fact, the Pixel line has closely followed the iPhone, with Google replicating many of Apple’s moves in the past few years. Not to mention that Google is taking a more measured approach about 5G, just like Apple does.
But the Z Flip’s Flex mode isn’t a feature Google built into Android just for Samsung. The company told The Verge that other vendors will be able to use the features in their own phones soon.
What the feature does is to split the phone’s display into two halves, each one of them capable of showing a different app. The feature caters to foldable devices, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work on regular all-screen phones, given that most phones out there come with huge all-screen designs — well, except for the Pixel 4 phones.
The split-screen mode is, therefore, a lot like Samsung’s own multi-window mode, which was a staple feature of the Galaxy Note line in the past. But the fact that Google is adding it to Android is good news, as more users might want to take advantage of it. By itself, it’s not enough to prove that Google is interested in making foldable handsets or tablets of its own in the near future. If it did, the foldable Pixel 5 would have already leaked. But it sure looks like Google is readying Android for a future where foldable devices will really be a thing. And in that future, there will be a place for a foldable Pixel.