The Google Pixel 8 leak points to desktop mode support

Google Pixel 7 Pro USB C port lying on the table

Google Pixel 7 Pro USB C port lying on the table

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Over the past two generations, Google has slowly but steadily adapted the Pixel lineup to support increasingly advanced use cases and features. Devices like the Pixel Fold and Pixel Tablet offer more versatility than ever within the Pixel family, and Google doesn’t stop there. As we have already revealed, the upcoming Google Pixel 8 phone series will receive, among other things, a more powerful Tensor G3 SoC, modern camera sensors and brand new displays, which should appeal to all power users.

Now, thanks to a source inside Google, we can reveal another long-awaited advanced feature that is finally coming to the Pixel. Support for USB DisplayPort Alternate Mode is coming to the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro. Let’s take a look.

What is USB DisplayPort Alternate Mode?

Thunderbolt USB-C stick

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

When USB-IF first introduced the USB-C standard in 2014, most people just saw a new reversible connector and slightly faster speeds than before, but the standard was so much more than that. Unlike previous iterations of USB, USB-C was designed with versatility and extensibility in mind.

One of the main ways this was achieved was by adding support for alternate modes. The idea is simple: USB-C plugs have a lot of connector pins (12 to be precise, or double that if you count even those that are there to support reversibility) and are already designed to support high speeds, so why not allow the use of the same connectors also for different applications? Alternate modes have made many other ports, and even older DC charging plugs, essentially obsolete. Why have a dedicated port that you’ll only use occasionally when USB-C can be used for that application and so much more?

DisplayPort Alt Mode allows devices to connect to displays via USB-C.

There are various alternate mode standards, but two of the most important ones are ThunderBolt and DisplayPort. The former carries PCIe, the same connection bus used for PC graphics cards and high-speed storage extension, among other things. It also supports audio, fast data transfers and even display output via the DisplayPort standard. The possibilities are practically endless, just look at all the docks and dongles out there that can add nearly any imaginable standard to virtually any device that supports ThunderBolt.

USB-C can also support DisplayPort Alternate Mode without ThunderBolt. While it’s far less versatile, it’s still a useful option for devices that didn’t previously offer a way to output high-resolution video to an external display. Think tablets and smartphones that don’t have room for an HDMI or other dedicated display port.

What would the Pixel 8 DisplayPort be used for?

Samsung Dex pocket cast netflix

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

While my source doesn’t have any specific information about Google’s DisplayPort plans, with a good ol’ code dig, we can figure out what Google might have in mind for the Pixel 8. One of the most obvious uses for external display support is to turn a phone in a desktop replacement. With a display, keyboard and mouse, a telephone could be used as a tool for light office work.

This concept is obviously not new. In fact, its first iteration was born in 2011, just three years after Android’s original launch. Motorola ATRIX had a special dock that turned it into a basic desktop computer. Since then, there have been many other attempts, such as Microsoft’s bet on Continuum in 2015. Thanks to the common code base of Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile, some Lumia phones could provide a full Windows desktop, just like on a real PC .

Google may include a desktop mode, right from your phone’s USB-C port, just like Samsung DeX.

But perhaps the most memorable implementation, at least in the Android space, is Samsung DeX. Launched in 2017, Samsung’s flagship phones continue to support Dex, enabling a desktop experience via nothing more than a USB-C cable or HDMI adapter. Another manufacturer supporting the idea is Motorola with its Ready For feature, which does everything DeX does and more, for example, including a dedicated video chat mode. It is supported on flagship devices as well as some mid-to-high-end models.

There is other evidence to support the idea that Google may be working on a Pixel desktop feature. AS spotted by Mishaal Rahman, the recent Android 14 betas have support for USB-C DisplayPort Alt Mode and introduced improvements to desktop mode which was present in the startup code for a while. While it’s still pretty sketchy, Google hasn’t forgotten about it and is still actively working on it. Google has also improved support for physical keyboards, although it may be for the Pixel Tablet keyboard.

That’s all you need to know about DisplayPort Alternate Mode on the Google Pixel 8 series. It’s exciting that Google may finally include such a coveted feature, but we’ll have to wait and see how it uses it.

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