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The best feature on Google’s foldable Pixel might be made by Samsung

Published Jun 1st, 2021 10:38PM EDT
Google Foldable Pixel
Image: Samsung Display

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Samsung’s first foldable showed us how far foldable phones had to go. These devices sound great in theory, but the technology isn’t quite where it should be for them to meet our expectations. Better said, the Galaxy Fold and various other first-gen foldable phones weren’t quite what we would have expected. Aside from the Fold’s initial mishaps that made some people question the Fold’s integrity, there was another issue with the phone. The Fold featured a plastic screen that could be scratched easily. That’s because Samsung had not yet perfected the technology for bendable glass by the time it launched the Fold.

However, Samsung fixed that last year, and is about to deliver another significant foldable display upgrade this year. And Google’s foldable Pixel might get to take advantage of the same tech.

Dubbed Ultra Thin Glass (UTG), the bendable glass display cover that Samsung developed debuted on the Galaxy Z Flip last year. UTG brought the same screen quality to Samsung’s 2020 foldables you expect from smartphones that don’t bend — hard glass covers on top of the screen rather than plastic. The Fold 2 also featured UTG, but the foldable glass wasn’t strong enough to support a stylus. The upcoming Fold 3 is reportedly going to feature an upgraded UTG panel that will make possible S Pen interaction.

No other foldable smartphone vendor has similar technology in place. That’s why the foldable phones that Huawei, Motorola, and Xiaomi announced so far have plastic screens rather than glass.

A report from Korea’s ETNews claims that Samsung has decided to make its UTG technology available to other smartphone manufacturers. Samsung is looking to strengthen its foldable display business, the report notes.

More interestingly, the report makes note of a single smartphone vendor that will likely employ Samsung UTG panels. That’s Google. “It is expected that its foldable OLED panel and UTG will be applied together for a foldable smartphone that Google is preparing,” the report writes.

Google has long been rumored to be working on its own Pixel foldable, with the most recent such rumor stemming from Google’s software. Code in Android 12 indicated support for what appeared to be a foldable Pixel phone, a device that’s yet to be announced.

ETNews says that UTG has been only available to Samsung phones to differentiate its foldables from the competition. However, Samsung plans to expand its foldable display business, and that’s why it’s making UTG tech available to rivals.

The report says the UTG panels will be sold to other companies starting in the second half of the year. That’s not enough to confirm that a foldable Pixel phone will be launched this year. But Google and Samsung just showed at I/O 2021 a few weeks ago they’re working closer than ever. The two companies revealed they’re merging Tizen into Wear OS for new smartwatch experiences. Separately, Samsung will reportedly manufacture the custom Pixel 6 chip following Google’s designs. Having Google among the first companies to access UTG panel supply makes sense.

Samsung’s unconfirmed decision to supply UTG panels to other handset vendors aligns with Samsung’s current strategy for its display division. Samsung is the leading provider of high-end OLED smartphone screens, and Apple is its most significant customer. A report said recently that the iPhone’s OLED needs might surpass Samsung’s own OLED requirements for Galaxy phones. Samsung’s OLED screens always receive high-praising reviews, and they’re one of the most expensive components inside the iPhone. Samsung might not like iPhone’s dominance in smartphone sale rankings and profits, but the Korean giant is also profiting from iPhone sales as the leading provider of OLED panels to Apple.

Samsung might employ a similar strategy to provide high-end OLED-UTG panels to other smartphone vendors in the future. Apple is also rumored to be working on several foldable iPhone prototypes. It’s unclear when those devices will launch, but Apple will be aiming for high build qualities, and that will probably include displays made of glass.

Google will unveil the Pixel 6 at some point in late September or early October. If it’s in the cards for a 2021 release, a foldable Pixel phone might drop around the same time.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.