At this morning's Android Dev Summit in Mountain View, Google announced that Android would be getting official, system-level support for devices with a foldable form factor. The platform will be incorporating features meant to take advantage of the new form factor and make things as easy as possible for developers. Google detailed two main types of foldable devices; multi-screen and single-screen devices. These simply mean devices that use a single, flexible screen, and devices like the ZTE Axon M that may use multiple screens in a folding design. In the keynote, given by Android VP of Engineering Dave Burke, it is specifically mentioned that Google is working with Samsung on making these changes, which means many of them will likely revolve around the Infinity Flex that Samsung announced today at its own Developer Conference.
Background: Users and developers can begin to see Android adapting to multi-screen and foldable devices on a systemwide level in the near future by adopting features that make using and developing for such devices easier. One example given by Burke is automatically expanding content onto the full available screen surface when a device is unfolded or otherwise expanded. This, and doubtlessly many other adaptations that will be developed within Android to accommodate the new form factor, will happen automatically, with no extra work required from the developer and no input required from the user. It is to be assumed this this will apply in some way to the overall Android UI as well; some Android tablets feature a two-paned Settings interface, as an example, and that could be something that will make its way to foldable devices. Similar UI tweaks for core Google apps may also be seen, such as categories on one side and photos on another for Google Photos, or perhaps your library on the right in Google Play Music with the main home screen for the app on the left. Multitasking usage is also a strong possibility, if not an inevitability. The platform's multitasking has been a strong suit for Android in the fight against iOS from the very beginning, and potentially running two or even more apps seamlessly on an unfolded device sounds like a logical expansion of the set of ideas that has driven Android multitasking development until now.
Impact: This move takes a crazy amount of work out of making multi-screen and foldable devices on the software optimization side for manufacturers, and makes things easier for app developers as well. Expect to see just about everybody jumping on board if Samsung finds success with the trend. The poorly remembered Kyocera Echo and the tepidly received ZTE Axon M serve as grim reminders that this foldable device trend is still in the experimental phase, and things could go wrong. If Samsung manages to make a compelling device, however, it's almost inevitable, given how easy Google is making it, that other OEMs will find a vendor for flexible screens and make their own foldable devices in every form factor imaginable. If you've always wanted a pocketable phone that you could unfold into a full-on laptop for media viewing and serious work, or a beefier device that can be unfolded and mounted as a giant display for movies and the like, this new development from Google just put your wish a step closer to reality.