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Google folding display patent emerges, but don't expect a foldable Pixel yet

The patent shows off several use cases for what could potentially become foldable phone. But don't hold your breath for it.

Published onMarch 15, 2019

Back side view of a Google Pixel 3 showing the Google logo.

A Google patent has emerged revealing a design concept for a folding display. The patent was unearthed by Patently Mobile (via The Verge), and it suggests the Android creator is mulling the launch of an innovative foldable device.

The patent shows off the display in several use cases as part of a computing device. It doesn’t strictly refer to a folding ‘smartphone’ in the patent, so this could be used on a tablet or laptop device. Given the current attention on folding phones in the Android world, and Google’s hardware focus on smartphones, a foldable phone seems most likely to be in Google’s plans. Check out how it looks in the images below.

As well as a clamshell-style unit (Fig.2), we also see what looks like a Z-folding approach (Fig.3), and possibly what taking a selfie or video calling may look like on the unit (the first image). The last picture shows the nature of the curved part of the device which, similar to the Galaxy Fold, would leave a gap.

The Z-folding type of design is interesting hasn’t yet been seen on any foldable device outside of concepts and patents; Google could potentially be the first to market with such a product, if it were pursuing it.

But boy is that a big if.

Reality check time

These types of patents frequently appear but only rarely do we get to see a finished product based on them. Several Samsung folding phone patents emerged before the Galaxy Fold launch, and they do not resemble it. That’s not to so these patents couldn’t be used for future phones, or that they don’t help in the development of similar products, only that they don’t guarantee such a device will ever be released.

Presentation of the Samsung Galaxy Fold foldable phone.
The upcoming Samsung Galaxy Fold.

Further, Google is rumored to have asked those with roles in its tablet and laptop division to find other positions in the company, suggesting hardware development is being deprioritized, or that there won’t pursue as many hardware lines in the future. Its Pixel phones are no doubt safe, but the Pixelbook series, and perhaps new prospects like a Google foldable, may not survive the restructure.

Google is working to bring Nintendo Switch controller support to Chrome

What’s more, Google’s smartphones usually don’t reflect current mobile trends — which folding phones may become. Its Pixel phones have been slow to adopt multiple cameras and to shrink their bezels, unlike its major competitors. It’s also not one to focus on hardware innovations, but instead tends to lead the way through software.

In other words, if a Google folding phone is in the works, Google probably won’t be in a hurry to reach the market with it, or use it to pioneer a unique Z-folding design.

With all that being said, Google is a huge technology company with vast resources, and if people start spending on folding phones (i.e. it sees profit in them), it will no doubt produce one at some point. All I’m saying is, don’t expect the folding Google Pixel (Fixel?) this Autumn alongside the Pixel 4 series.

Up next: These are the best foldable phones with flexible displays

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