Android 12.1 just tipped Google’s foldable phone strategy

pixel fold concept
(Image credit: Waqar Khan)

The impending Android 12 release has many Android fans excited, as it's a big change for Google's mobile OS. But we're already looking to what's next and that could be coming a lot sooner than Android 13. 

Courtesy of XDA Developers, we have screenshots of a leaked internal build of Android 12.1, which looks to offer a big screen/tablet UI for the first time in many, many years. This build looks to offer foldable phones better use of their screen real estate, including a taskbar (like the one that the foldable Galaxy Z Fold 3 has).

Android used to have a dedicated tablet UI way back on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, but Google slowly stripped that out for its own reasons. Ever since, Android tablets haven't been very good and left the iPad with practically no competition. Samsung looks like it's the last holdout for this product category.

But since foldables seem to be growing in popularity, Google might have figured now was the time that Android needed a big screen UI again. That could also have something to do with the rumored Pixel Fold, too. Google likes to bake in native support for form factors that it has a direct interest in, such as the notch support in Android 9 Pie and the hideous-looking Pixel 3 XL that came out that same year.

XDA is under the impression that Android 12.1 — if that is what Google ends up calling it — could launch alongside the Pixel Fold, which would make sense. The other noteworthy thing about this update is that Google plans to open source the Monet theming engine (which is what powers the Material You theming in Android 12).

We expect Android 12 in the next week or two, with the Pixel 6's announcement not long after that. Meanwhile, I'm with XDA on this Android 12.1 chatter. I don’t think that Android 12.1 will come out before the end of this year, especially if the Pixel Fold doesn’t launch until late 2021. Google looks like it's all in on the Pixel line this year and it appears that it's making sure that Android itself is up to the task of backing these new phones.

Jordan Palmer
Phones Editor

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He's written about phones for over six years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.