Appeal aside, Apple has effectively defeated the largest Android manufacturer — and coincidentally Apple’s biggest competitor — in the United States. There are the obvious upfront consequences of this loss, such as Samsung paying Apple a handsome sum of a little more than $1 billion and potential injunctions against guilty Samsung devices in the United States. What is more interesting and important, however, are the future ramifications of this verdict. How will Samsung’s loss to Apple affect Android? Let’s take a look.
Prior to Apple vs Samsung, Apple already locked horns with HTC and Motorola, two major Android manufacturers. This victory against Samsung is likely to embolden Apple to increase the heat on HTC and Motorola plus go after other Android manufacturers, big and small, with the end goal of attempting to lock Android out of the mobile device market. The victory against Samsung will particularly boost Apple’s confidence in enforcing its design patents because design patents are typically harder to win with and this victory could tell Apple it has a good chance of winning with these design patents again.
Of course it can be said Samsung was (is) the most brazen is making its devices look similar to iDevices. Anyone that has seen Apple, Samsung, HTC, and Motorola devices probably agrees with me when I say it will be harder to enforce trade dress and design patents against the latter two because of how they differentiate their devices. However, Apple still has its other software-related patents to fire away with.
Bottom line: Expect to see Apple expand its efforts to destroy Android.
Although we may look at Samsung’s reaction as a typical response, it does hold some truth to it. Now that Apple has won against Samsung, it will force Android manufacturers to do one of two things: either license Apple patents or invest more into research and development to better differentiate their products from iDevices and find workarounds for features that Apple has patented.
Since Apple has made it clear that their offer to license patents to Samsung was an exception and not the rule, Android manufacturers will likely have to go the second route and invest more money into better product differentiation and reworking infringing features. While we can hope these extra costs are absorbed by the fat margins conglomerates like Samsung enjoy, the prices are more likely to be passed onto the consumers. In other words, Android phones and tablets will become more expensive. This applies to not only high-end devices, such as Galaxy S III and HTC One X, but also entry-level, cheap devices, such as LG Optimus One.
If Android manufacturers feel they cannot compete with the above-mentioned increase costs or if they feel they cannot handle the legal pressure Apple will put on them, they might decide Android isn’t worth it despite the seemingly free price tag. As such, some Android manufacturers may jump ship to other platforms, such as Windows Phone, Bada OS, or Meebo. Maybe even BlackBerry if RIM is willing to license out the platform.
If Android manufacturers do indeed jump ship, it would spell trouble for the platform which has thrived because of the support it has received by OEMs. I have no doubt in my mind that one of the biggest reasons why Android is as popular, and successful despite today’s setback, today is because of the number of manufacturers churning out Android devices for all levels of society. An exodus of OEMs from Android would be trouble indeed.
Simply put, the future of Android hinges on Samsung’s appeal. Does that mean if Samsung losses Android will cease to exist? No, you can’t kill a huge, multi-billion dollar monster that easily. After all, Apple isn’t the only one with legal guns; Google is fighting back and a victory at the ITC for Motorola could level the playing field with Apple. Plus for all we know this legal loss could spur Android and Android manufacturers to innovate in such a way that they beat back whatever Apple has brewing. Still, though, Apple’s victory in California has put a big red question mark about the future of the Android platform and only time will tell what happens. Here’s hoping the history books don’t mark August 24, 2012 as the beginning of the end for our little green friend.
[Image via RGB with edits by Ashraf]