Steve Jobs minced no words when talking about Android, Google’s mobile operating system, which he saw as too similar to the iPhone’s. He said Android was “a stolen product” and “I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”
But so far Apple has not gone to war with Google, at least not directly. Instead, Apple has sued the cellphone makers that use Android in their products — like Samsung, which was hit with a claim of more than $1 billion in damages on Friday when a jury found that it had infringed on some of Apple’s patents.
Now, though, the war is drawing closer to Google’s doorstep. Google is increasingly making its own hardware or playing an integral part in designing it. And the jury in the Samsung trial found that features built into Android, and not just features added by Samsung, violated Apple patents — potentially forcing Google to adjust its software.
“Apple’s desire is to be able to put Google on that hot seat, but they need a path to actually be able to do that, and so far all they’ve seen is a way to go after actual hardware makers,” said Charles S. Golvin, a mobile industry analyst at Forrester.
Google could end up more squarely in Apple’s sights if it doesn’t take precautions, said Golvin. “What it means for the Android folks is a careful review, a close examination of Apple’s stable of patents to weed out anything that looks risky in terms of violating the Apple portfolio.”
Unlike Apple, which makes both iPhone software and hardware, Google makes Android software but leaves the manufacturing of phones and the customisation of specific Android features to other companies, like Samsung, HTC and Motorola.
And Google gives the Android software to manufacturers at no charge. Instead, it makes money on Android indirectly, by selling mobile ads, along with apps and media in its Google Play store.
In fact, if Apple really went after Google, it could end up hurting its own products. The iPhone includes a Google search bar in its Safari browser, and Google offers some popular apps, like one for Gmail, in Apple’s App Store. A direct attack could compel Google to remove such features from the iPhone and make it a less attractive product to consumers, said analysts.
Google has also foreshadowed that it has grounds to countersue Apple, much as companies like Samsung have done. Google has patents on several important iPhone features like maps and search, for instance.
“Most of these patent claims don't relate to the core Android operating system," Google said in a statement on Monday. "The mobile industry is moving fast and all players, including newcomers, are building upon ideas that have been around for decades.”
Apple on Monday asked a federal judge to block the sale of eight Samsung smartphones. But the chance that Samsung will have to take those phones off store shelves soon is slim, because of the likelihood that such an action could be delayed, pending appeals by Samsung.
Korean firm to keep up US fight
Samsung vowed on Tuesday to take “all necessary measures” to keep its products on US store shelves, in response to Apple’s request for a ban on sales of eight smartphones including versions of its Galaxy smartphones. Seoul/Reuters