Phones with foldable displays might never be anything more than a niche product. Then again, if you’re Google, and you’re dealing with a seemingly never-ending reality of fragmentation among Android device makers with all kinds of different screens, sizes, and form factors, it might make sense to get in on the ground floor and offer Android support to foldable phone makers like Samsung in the hopes that you can start promoting a bit of uniformity early — at least in terms of the app experience making a seamless transition between different screens, including the bendy ones.
That’s behind Google’s thinking in announcing today, at the company’s Android Developer Summit, that Android will officially support a “Foldables” device category, with Android VP of engineering Dave Burke saying that Google basically plans to enhance the OS “to take advantage of this new form factor with as little work as necessary.”
Beyond that announcement, there’s not much else in the way of specifics as of yet. Though there will be a “Foldables” session this week at the developer summit that will reportedly have more to share.
The Android Developers blog has some additional things to say, including the fact that foldables are on the way from several Android manufacturers like Samsung, which previewed one today and plans to offer it next year.
“There are two variants broadly speaking,” the post explains. “Two-screen devices and one-screen devices. When folded, foldables look like phones, fitting in your pocket or purse. When unfolded, their defining feature is what we call screen continuity. For example, start a video with the folded smaller screen — and later you can sit down and unfold the device to get a larger tablet-sized screen for a beautiful, immersive experience.
“As you unfold, the app seamlessly transfers to the bigger screen without missing a beat. We’re optimizing Android for this new form factor. And, making changes to help developers everywhere take advantage of the possibilities this creates for amazing new experiences, new ways to engage and delight your users.”
We just announced support for foldables at #AndroidDevSummit, a new form factor coming next year from Android partners.
Android apps run seamlessly as the device folds, achieving this form factor's chief feature: screen continuity. pic.twitter.com/NAfOmCOY26
— Android Developers (@AndroidDev) November 7, 2018
The post goes on to note that as early as Android 1.6, there was consideration being given to different screen sizes and densities so that the platform could support new form factors and experiences like Android TV, Wear OS and more.
All of this is to say that the “support” Android is offering for foldables as of right now appears to be mainly guidance in the form of steering developers toward the screen continuity feature that post mentions above. Sagar Kamdar, Android director of product management, told The Verge there are different ways to cut down on fragmentation among foldables devices and experiences, but that Google doesn’t have anything else to announce. At least today.
“The company isn’t ready yet to discuss some of the more fundamental questions, like will Google create a default home screen for foldables?” The Verge reports. “Will better support for drag-and-drop on a full-screen display come? Will device makers need to sign a different kind of Android license to create a foldable phone?
“Still, the most important question is whether or not Google is on the ball when it comes to preventing fragmentation on this new form factor. The answer appears to be yes.”