Pixel 5a vs Pixel 6a (4)

Google Camera 8.6 update throws fuel on the Pixel Fold fire

It’s Pixel 6a release day, but Google isn’t solely focused on its newest phone. The company’s rolling out a fresh version of its camera app for Pixels, and it’s one of the most substantial we’ve seen in ages. While it might seem like user-facing changes are few and far between, a handful of hints towards future Google hardware make this one of the most intriguing software updates in a long time.


The folks at 9to5Google first spotted the update on a Pixel 4a running Android 13 yesterday, and I can confirm the patch is rolling out to phones now — though seemingly, only on Android 13 devices. My Pixel 6, which is still rocking Android 12, isn’t seeing anything available through the Play Store, and the APK available on APK Mirror specifically targets Android 13. We’re pretty close to a stable launch, so it’s not too surprising to see this update limited to the newer OS.

Left: Google Camera 8.5. Right: Google Camera 8.6.

As for what’s actually in this patch, it’s a couple of small changes for existing phones — along with plenty of hints about future hardware. First up is some Material You goodness for the Modes tab on the viewfinder. Previously, these options showed up as basic white circles, but now, Panorama, Photo Sphere, and Lens all match your phone’s wallpaper, newly organized with a rounded backdrop.

The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are also getting support for speech enhancement using the rear camera. At launch, this mode boosted the sound of your voice over the environment around you, but it was limited to the front-facing camera. No longer will this feature be limited to Meet calls and selfies — though you’ll have to stick to 1080p recording at 30FPS to use it.

The real exciting stuff is all hidden within this new APK, which the 9to5Google crew dug through to find evidence of what’s coming down the pike. The most intriguing discovery relates directly to the ever-delayed Pixel foldable. “Juniper” is a new feature that, outside of a new icon, remains a mystery for the time being. This graphic, set to appear next to the shutter button, shows a folding phone closing in on itself. Once it’s activated, the shutter button disappears — and that’s the only clue we have to what it could be.

For now, all we can do is speculate on what this could be. At the risk of sounding too nerdy, the icon for “Juniper” reminds me of a lot of certain Nintendo DS games requiring the player to close the handheld to solve a puzzle or accomplish a task. If that’s what this button entails, presumably, this feature would move the viewfinder to the outside of the phone, where you could then capture an image using the exterior camera and display. It’s a conclusion 9to5Google also arrives at, though it remains unclear to me why you’d need a separate button for this. Presumably, closing the phone while active in this mode would accomplish the same thing.

It’s not the only secret buried in today’s update. Two additional modes, “Amber” and “Amethyst,” are also hidden in Google Camera 8.6. Like “Juniper,” it’s unclear what either of these tools do, and it’s tough to determine based on just a couple of clues. Whatever “Amber” does, it’s limited to recording in 1080p at 30FPS — meaning it’s likely a video-focused feature. “Amethyst,” meanwhile, is a toggle represented by a light bulb. Make of those what you will.

If you’re looking for something more concrete, “Hotshot” is for you. This feature is designed to make sure you’re capturing the best selfie possible, with the discovered code specifically calling out “visual, audio, and haptic feedback.” We’re more than a decade into the era of front-facing cameras, so I’m not sure who out there is still looking for help improving their selfie game, but hey — if you’re dying to become an influencer, this might be the tool for you.

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