For reference, this is only one man’s opinion and should be taken as such. Lastly, I would like to stipulate that regardless of whether the Pixel foldable reaps commercial success, the mere fact that it introduces greater competition in the Western part of the market is a good thing for foldables in general.
Addressing the major hardware flaws of foldable technology
One of the biggest things that the Pixel Fold needs to do in order to set itself apart from the Galaxy Z Flip and Galaxy Z Fold is addressing a number of persistent hardware flaws that have consistently plagued both lineups from the very beginning.
Doing away with the crease
This might be an unpopular opinion, but, quite frankly, I am sick of the notorious crease on Samsung’s foldables. Admittedly, it has become somewhat less prominent as the generations have gone by, but it still tends to stick out as a sore thumb. To add insult to injury, many Chinese manufacturers have found ways to minimize the crease on their respective foldables. After playing around with the Oppo Find N, I can confidently say that its crease is noticeably less visible than the one on the Galaxy Z Fold 4. Given Samsung’s commercial dominance over the foldable market, it simply makes no sense why it still does so little to address this eye-glaring shortcoming of its devices.
In my view, if Oppo and Huawei can find a way, so can Samsung. Furthermore, the main reason it has not is most likely the fact that most of the world’s population cannot get their hands on creaseless foldables. Luckily, Google can change this by giving Western consumers more options and in turn pushing Samsung to once again innovate. Speaking of which…
Making the smartphone fold flat
Another obvious flaw when it comes to the two mainstream foldable lineups from Samsung is the gap that forms when they are folded. Not only is it some sloppy design, but also a potential durability hazard.
After all, the foldable screen is made from plastic and even if the latter is more rigid, it would still be greatly damaged if, say, some grains of sand make their way into the gap. In a sense, it is more integral to address the gap than the crease, which looks like a minor inconvenience in comparison.
Once again, many Chinese manufacturers have already found ways to eliminate the gap. If Google does the same, its foldable will not only be more visually appealing, but also markedly less prone to accidental harm.
Ensuring the Pixel Fold does not feel like a rock in your pocket
Everybody knows that foldables struggle in the durability department. But they might be perhaps the only smartphones in 2022 that are fragile and bulky at the same time. Weight is a major concern, especially for notepad-style foldables (i.e. the ones with the Galaxy Fold’s form factor), and much less so than for clamshell-style ones (i.e. the ones with the Galaxy Flip’s design). By the looks of it, the Pixel Fold will conform to the former design. Inherently, this means that it will be a chunky device. If it ends up being gapless, it will have a sleeker silhouette, but Google needs to make sure people will not feel like they are carrying a brick in their pockets.
Many Chinese manufacturers are working towards that goal. Reportedly, the Oppo Find N2 will weigh less than an iPhone 14 Pro Max. If Google could optimize the weight of the Pixel Fold, that will be another major selling point.
Making full use of the foldable form factor
Nevertheless, hardware is only one side of the equation. What will ultimately make or break the Pixel Fold is how well the device makes use of its foldable form factor. The latter will essentially come down to two main points – software optimization and aspect ratios.
Taking Android to the next level
The Pixel lineup is known for its unparalleled Android experience. Google will need to build upon that appeal in order to make the Pixel Fold stand out. For reference, foldables already run a custom version of Android, but there is still much to be desired.
We are referring to greater app optimisation and finding unique use cases for the foldable screen. Microsoft showed a very interesting custom interface for the Surface Duo (another device with an unusual form factor) earlier this year, and Google should aim to do the same.
After all, the company is known more for software than it is for hardware, so this is one aspect in which I hope Google delivers.
Fixing the awkward aspect ratios
My biggest pet peeve with Samsung’s Fold has always been just how awkward its aspect ratios are. This ultimately makes the cover screen borderline unusable under many circumstances and pushes users to essentially use the smartphone unfolded almost 90% of the time.
This is not necessarily a bad thing per se. However, notepad style foldables aim to deliver a 2-in-1 fantasy. This means that manufacturers should aim to make the cover screen as usable as possible. Perhaps, splitting your time between the cover screen and the main one in half is a bit optimistic. However, you should be able to use the cover screen as much as possible.
This means the Pixel Fold should ideally have a much less narrow cover screen than the one found on the Galaxy Z Fold 4. Samsung has managed to widen the secondary screen over the last couple of years but it still feels rather strange to use for a number of tasks. Google needs to do better.
Conclusion – not just another Galaxy Fold
It will be no easy feat for Google to stand its ground against the king of foldables, let alone dethrone it. In order to do so, the former needs to change the rules of the game, by seeking to emulate Chinese foldables, instead of simply releasing a carbon copy of the Galaxy Z Fold 4.
In a sense, the Pixel Fold should look much more like the Oppo Find N than anything else. The latter is nearly creaseless and gapless, while having much more adequate aspect ratios that make both screens perfectly usable. Hardware-wise, the Find N would be a great starting point.
From then on Google must work towards making its foldable lighter and then refine the software behind the device even further. This is absolutely necessary because Google still has one major challenge in its way – namely, the price.
The Pixel Fold will undoubtedly be a very expensive device. It is possible (but rather doubtful) that Google manages to price its foldable more competitively, but I would not hold my breath. Early rumors point to a $1600+ price tag. It will take a lot for Google to make users splurge that much on a first-generation product. After all, we all remember the fiasco that was the first Galaxy Fold release.