Google needs special sauce to sell a foldable phone

Google almost confirmed that we’ll finally see a foldable Pixel phone. People who aren’t Google have been talking about one for years, but something makes Google think now is the time and we should see something at Google I/O next week.

And part of what we’re seeing has to be something that none of the other folding phones – which really means only the Galaxy Fold here in North America – offers. Some features or pieces of software that make the Pixel Fold magical.

The important thing is that it has to be something exclusive. For example, if you had a big box full of foldable phones, you would search through them until you found the Pixel Fold because it has that one thing that Samsung doesn’t offer.

I’ve looked through the renders and the “official” teaser hundreds of times and I’m pretty sure it won’t be theme based. The bezels look small and many people like small bezels. It also appears to be thin, which is important when you’re doubling the thickness as these are two phones folded into one. To me, that won’t be enough to get people to care.

(Image credit: Google)

Maybe they rely on the Pixel’s awesome camera. Pixel cameras are so good that even the budget Pixel 6a has a better camera than any thousand-dollar phone you compare it to. The Pixel 7a should be exactly the same and take photos as good or better than a $1,300 Galaxy S23 Ultra. It’s always been that way, and unless Google really messes it up, it always will be.

I don’t think that’s the case either. Everyone wants a good camera on their expensive new phone, but no one says every flagship phone has a bad one and they’re all good enough. Very few people will go for a Pixel Fold because the camera is better than the Galaxy Z Fold.

That leaves one thing Google can do to differentiate itself – software. This is both a wonderful and a terrible idea that I sincerely hope doesn’t happen.

Google manages and does most of the work when it comes to Android. But another entirely different division of Google makes Pixel phones. Because of this, the Android installed on the Pixel range looks more like the Android installed on Samsung’s phones than what you would get if you downloaded the source code and built it yourself. The Pixel is crammed with software that isn’t part of Android.

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich/Android Central)

Nor do I mean the various little things that Google gives to every company that signs an agreement. If you have a device that has access to the Google Play Store, you have or have access to all of Google’s services. It doesn’t matter who made the phone.

Only a Pixel phone has the Pixel camera software. Only a Pixel phone has the Pixel Home Launcher. Only a Pixel phone has Google’s crash detection feature. Some things used to be Pixel exclusives but are now available for other devices, like the phone dialer or Google Messages. That doesn’t mean these software features are better than anything offered by any other phone maker, just that Google is keeping things for its Pixel phones only.

Samsung (yes, I know there’s Xiaomi and Motorola, but I’m sticking with Samsung here) also has unique software features for its foldable devices like support for a proprietary stylus, and unique hardware features like UTG (ultra-thin glass), a patented hinge, and the S Pen stylus itself. Features are what sell phones in the crowded Android space.

(Image credit: Frontpagetech)

Plain and simple, Google will need some of these unique features for the Pixel Fold if it’s ever to succeed. Some novel ways to use the two displays, or a hidden hardware trick we didn’t see on the sneak peek.

That’s tough to pull off, especially since Google has been working hand-in-hand with Samsung and Microsoft (remember the foldable bug?) to ready Android for big screens that fold in half. It also means Google knows what Samsung is doing and could outperform its only real competition.

What that “one more thing” idea might be, well, I have no idea. All I know is that if Google expects to sell more than a few Pixel Folds, it’ll almost have to be there by now.