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Google Pixel 8 leak points to desktop mode support

A Pixel that could replace your PC?

Published onJune 24, 2023

Google Pixel 7 Pro USB C port lying on table
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Over the last couple of generations, Google has been slowly but steadily adapting Pixel line-up to support more and more advanced use cases and features. Devices like the Pixel Fold and Pixel Tablet provide more versatility than ever inside the Pixel family, and Google isn’t stopping there. As we’ve already revealed, the upcoming Google Pixel 8 series of phones is set to receive a more performant Tensor G3 SoC, modern camera sensors, and brand-new displays, among other things, which should all appeal to power users.

Now, thanks to a source inside Google, we can reveal another long-awaited advanced feature that’s finally coming to Pixels. Support for USB DisplayPort alternate mode is heading to the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro. Let’s take a look.

What is USB DisplayPort alternate mode?

Thunderbolt USB C dongle
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

When the USB-IF first unveiled the USB-C standard back in 2014, most people just saw a new, reversible connector and speeds that were somewhat faster than before, but the standard was way more than that. Unlike previous iterations of USB, USB-C was designed with versatility and extendibility in mind.

One of the main ways this was achieved was by adding support for alternate modes. The idea is simple: USB-C plugs have a lot of connector pins (12 to be precise, or double that if you also count the ones that are there to support reversibility) and are already designed to support high speeds, so why not allow the use of the same connectors for different applications too? Alternate modes made a lot of other ports, and even old DC charging plugs, basically obsolete. Why have a dedicated port that you will only use occasionally when USB-C can be used for that application and way more?

DisplayPort Alt Mode allows devices to connect to displays via USB-C.

There are various alternate mode standards, but two of the most important ones are ThunderBolt and DisplayPort. The former transmits PCIe, the same connection bus used for PC graphic cards and high-speed storage extension, among other things. It also supports audio, fast data transfers, and even display outputs via the DisplayPort standard. The possibilities are basically endless — just look at all the available docks and dongles that can add nearly any standard imaginable to virtually any device that supports ThunderBolt.

USB-C can also support the DisplayPort alternate mode without ThunderBolt. While that’s far less versatile, it’s still a useful option for devices that previously didn’t offer a way to output high-resolution video to an external display. Think tablets and smartphones that don’t have room to spare for an HDMI or other dedicated display port.

What would the Pixel 8 use DisplayPort for?

Samsung Dex pocketcasts netflix
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

While my source doesn’t have specific information regarding Google’s DisplayPort plans, with some good old code digging, we can figure out what Google might have in mind for the Pixel 8. One of the more obvious uses for external display support is to transform a phone into a desktop replacement. With a display, keyboard and mouse, a handset could be used as a tool for light office work.

This concept obviously isn’t new. In fact, its first iteration came into existence in 2011, barely three years after Android’s original launch. Motorola ATRIX had a special dock that converted it into a basic desktop computer. Since then, there have been many more attempts, like Microsoft’s bet on Continuum back in 2015. Thanks to the common codebase of Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile, select Lumia phones could provide a full Windows desktop, just like on a real PC.

Google may include a desktop mode, directly from your phone's USB-C port, much like Samsung DeX.

But perhaps the most memorable implementation, at least in the Android space, is Samsung DeX. Launched in 2017, Samsung flagship phones continue to support Dex, allowing for a desktop experience via nothing more than a USB-C cable or HDMI adapter. Another manufacturer that supports the idea is Motorola with their “Ready For” feature, which does everything that DeX does and more, for example, including a dedicated video chat mode. It’s supported on flagship devices as well as some upper-mid-range models.

There’s other evidence to support the idea that Google might be working on a Pixel desktop feature. As spotted by Mishaal Rahman, recent Android 14 betas have support for USB-C DisplayPort Alt Mode and introduced improvements to the desktop mode that was present in the launcher code for a while. While it’s still fairly rough, Google hasn’t forgotten about it and is still actively working on it. Google’s also been improving support for physical keyboards, although that might be for the rumored keyboard for the Pixel Tablet.

That’s everything you need to know about DisplayPort alternate mode on the Google Pixel 8 series. It’s exciting that Google may finally include such a coveted feature, but we’ll have to wait and see how it utilizes it.

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