The thing I notice is when people get introduced to the smartphone. The iPhone has become ubiquitous and easily recognizable. This isn’t something most Android devices can match; Samsung probably manages this by being the manufacturer “not Apple,” so this becomes a safe guess.

I find it’s the Pixel that gets noticed and recognised, even though it’s “this is a Google phone” rather than “Pixel”; But they get recognized and the camera strip does all the work.

It’s probably one of the most important pieces of design Google has made in recent years, and now the company has spoken out about the decisions that led to this distinctive feature.

The camera roll did not start from a new sheet of paper. For the Pixel 3, 4, and 5 family of smartphones, Google placed the camera in a raised, rounded square block in the corner of the phone. It added character, but there were issues – particularly the off-center location that created an unstable device when placed on a table and the lack of physical depth to pack the new optics.

This should have changed for the Pixel 6:

“If you look at the Pixel 5, all the sensors were packed into this little box — so when we knew the camera was going to be dramatically improved, we wanted to do something different,” says industrial designer Sangsoo Park. The phone was larger, and we wanted to really keep everything contained and streamlined, but also celebrate it in some way.

The Pixel 6 and especially the Pixel 6 Pro allowed Google to step up its visual game — an important step as the Pixel 6 was also the first device to ship with a Google-designed Mobile Tensor chipset and added AI and ML hardware to help with image processing and editing. This extra space and volume allowed everything to scale, and the results were clear, as the DXOMark team noted:

“With an overall DXOMARK camera score of 135, the Google Pixel 6 Pro puts Google back in the mix of manufacturers vying for the smartphone camera crown, making the device, at least from a photography standpoint, the top choice for Android users on the market.” American companies outperform competitors Samsung and Asus.

Not only did it leave room for hardware, but the Camera Bar’s design worked hand-in-hand with the functionality of a Pixel smartphone, ensuring that what helped the camera also helped the user experience in as many ways as possible. Simply put, you can use it on a table without it wobbling, as Paul Thurrott pointed out in his Pixel 6 Pro review:

“…I give Google credit for creating a distinct look and feel that in no way mimics what Apple and Samsung do, and is at least somewhat respectful of the Pixel’s past. Better yet, the design is functional, too: the camera strip runs across the entire back, So the phone won’t flop around on the table like Apple and Samsung’s flagship phones do.

The design has evolved with the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, bringing with it a feel closer to the elements shown in software; The circular menu bars and circular elements of Google’s Material You interface are echoed in the following camera bar:

“We took inspiration from liquid metal surfaces to create this look,” says Guyon. The Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro’s metal surface surrounds the cameras with grains and circles, which are also found in Google’s Material You UI, providing cohesion between software and hardware.

The camera bar isn’t the answer for every device — Google’s move into the foldable device market with the titular Pixel Fold created the camera bar for the same issues it tried to address in feature phones:

“After exploring multiple options, they chose the Pixel Camera Bar located inside the phone’s body rather than extending completely edge-to-edge, as on the Pixel 7 Pro. This was both a structural and aesthetic choice.” “The structure holds the protective case together more firmly,” Sangsoo says. “It’s also the right amount of space between the hinge and the case, so it’s visually well balanced.” “Everything became more aligned with this approach.”

The problem, of course, was that the camera strap was on one side of the fold; The other side should be the screen used when the unit is closed. Open up the Pixel Fold in all its glory, and while you had the thinnest Pixel device yet, you had a Pixel with a massive strip across half of its back. The requisite camera depth and desire for a large, foldable screen ultimately work against the Pixel Fold’s dual modes. Ayaz Akhtar from PC Mag:

“The camera bar is large and goes through much of the back panel. It swings due to the camera bar when placed folded down on a flat surface in tablet mode but is stable if placed when closed.”

The Pixel Fold remains a niche device (arguably all foldable phones are niche, at least for a few more years). There are limitations to the camera bar, but these limitations are limited to the flexible technology of a foldable phone rather than a common, well-known device.

The blog post doesn’t address what comes next, even though we all know the answer is the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro. The upcoming smartphones will be launched at the ‘Made By Google’ event on October 4. Ahead of the dance party in New York, Google has been teasing the event and the phones online, and it’s clear that the camera bar remains an integral part of the package and is easily recognizable.

The seamless blend can be seen at the side of the phone, as do the oval and circular cutouts that match the material elements, and the integration of the new temperature sensor, larger lenses and improved image sensors is still tucked under the bar that stops your phone from wobbling.

The design continues to delight.

Read now the three leaked features that will help the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro stand out…
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