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Pixel Fold's absence at Google I/O was noticeable — here's why

Google Pixel Fold render
(Image credit: MacRumors render)

At a Google I/O keynote where Google showed off the Pixel 6a that will arrive in July, a Pixel 7 and Pixel Watch that will show up in the fall and a Pixel tablet that ships at some point next year, it seems churlish to hone in on the hardware Google didn't talk about. And yet, the Pixel Fold — a foldable device that some have tipped for release later this year — was notably left out of Google's rundown of hardware you can expect from the company in the coming months.

There's probably a perfectly good reason for that. The Pixel Fold remains the stuff of rumors for now. Even Google — which is more chatty than most phone makers about its planned products — has yet to confirm that a foldable device is in the works. This could be one of those things that Google keeps close to the vest until it's ready to show off at least a working prototype.

Still, it's not as if there wasn't an opportunity during this week's Google I/O keynote for the Pixel Fold to make a surprise appearance. Google executives spent some time talking about bolstering Android's capabilities on large-screen devices, and while the company clearly had tablets in mind, you couldn't help but imagine those multitasking features finding their way to a foldable phone. (What is a foldable, after all, if not a tablet that's just easier to fit into a pocket?)

Toward the end of the keynote, when Google senior vice president for devices and services Rick Osterloh appeared on stage to offer a sneak preview of a big-screen device that wasn't going to arrive until 2023, I felt for certain we were going to get an early look at the Pixel Fold. Instead, Osterloh previewed the Pixel tablet, which sort of resembles a Google Nest Hub with its base lopped off.

Google Pixel Tablet promo image from Google I/O 2022

Say, this isn't a foldable phone. (Image credit: Future)

All right, so I only have myself to blame for feeling let down by that reveal — we never promised you a foldable phone, pal, you can hear Google protesting. But with only a passing reference to foldables from other device makers and not much time spent on Google's efforts with Android 12L to optimize Android for these new kinds of devices, you have to wonder if Google is really serious about a foldable of its own, or if the Pixel Fold is just some sort of collective delusion we've all convinced ourselves is happening.

After all, we had been told late last year that the Pixel Fold had been scrapped, reportedly because Google decided it had too big a hill to climb to compete with the best foldable phones. But then rumors continued about the Fold's status, with multiple sources insisting the project was still proceeding.

These days, you'll find several rumormongers pointing to a late 2022 launch, with the phone reportedly appearing alongside the Pixel 7 later this year. (At least Google's confirmed that the latter device actually exists.) And there's not a lot of contrary voices rising up to disagree with that assertion.

Maybe that's because most of the talk around the Pixel Fold references some pretty concrete details. For starters, rumors point to specific screen sizes for the Pixel Fold — a 7.6-inch interior display just like the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and rumored Galaxy Z Fold 4, along with a 5.8-inch cover display. Additional rumors have even claimed that Google has lined up suppliers for the foldable panels it needs, though many of those reports pre-date the Pixel Fold's supposed cancellation in late 2021. The point is, tipsters are getting this information from somewhere.

Google Pixel Fold renders

(Image credit: Waqar Khan/Let's Go Digital)

Of course, you can go mad trying to read anything into the timing of leaks and rumors about tech products. Shortly before Google I/O, a report surfaced that the launch of the Pixel Buds Pro was imminent, despite the fact that few technical details about the wireless earbuds had been revealed. You'd think that would mean that a Google I/O reveal wasn't in the cards, and yet here we are, with a July 21 preorder date for the Pixel Buds Pro.

All we do know is that making a foldable phone seems sensible for a company like Google that's not only looking for new ways to excite people about its hardware, but also can optimize the software that bolsters the usefulness of a foldable screen. Samsung is clearly excited enough about the prospect of foldable phones to keep coming out with new versions of not just the Galaxy Z Fold, but a Galaxy Z Flip 3 successor as well. China-based phone makers are pursuing their own hardware, too. Imagine what Google can do when it's also responsible for the software that can run on these devices.

So while I'm inclined to think that Google is tinkering with a Pixel Fold — or a Pixel Notepad, if that's what Google ends up calling this thing — maybe the takeaway from Google I/O is that those efforts aren't as close to paying off as we've been led to believe. Given that Google was very eager to lay out its product roadmap in other areas this week, a foldable before year's end could be a big ask. But I'd be happy to be surprised.

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.