ANALYSIS: Some of the chatter in the wake of the Apple vs. Samsung patent case suggests that the verdicts may be a boon to Microsoft Windows Phone, but one analyst says there are still too many variables to make that assumption.
The verdicts in the patent-infringement case that Apple won against Samsung have been viewed by many as a proxy case of Apple vs. Google because its Android operating system powers the Samsung phones at issue in the trial.
If Android is what's on trial, the thinking goes, Microsoft would benefit if people choose Windows Phone devices over Androids, or device manufacturers make that decision for them. But it's a little soon to predict that.
While Google wasn't on trial in a federal courtroom in San Jose, Calif., Apple definitely has its sights set on its Android operating system. In the Walter Isaacson book Steve Jobs
, a biography of the late Apple co-founder, Jobs fumed about his belief that Google's Android mobile operating system is a rip-off of Apple iOS that powers the iPhone and iPad. He said he was willing to spend every dollar of Apple's cash reserves to wage "thermonuclear war" against Android in the mobile market.
If Apple's ultimate target is Google Android, that could benefit Windows Phone OS
because it is fundamentally different from iOS. For instance, it uses a tiled user interface on the home screen to identify different applications, unlike the array of colorful icons on an Android home screen that Apple witnesses testified was a copy of the icons of an iPhone screen.
But officially, Android wasn't on trial in the case that resulted in an Aug. 24 verdict in which Apple was awarded $1.05 billion
in damages because Samsung infringed on its patents. The San Jose trial focused more on the design of the hardware than the Android OS, said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst covering the mobile market for IDC.
The jury agreed with Apple's argument that Samsung violated Apple patents on touch-screen features that Samsung built into its phones, including the "bounceback" effect, tap-to-zoom and pinch-to-zoom, Restivo notes.
"Android is not the subject of the court case, nor is it clear that the operating system itself is at issue," he said.
Google said as much in a statement released after the verdicts were handed down.
"Most of these [patents] don't relate to the core Android operating system, and several are being re-examined by the U.S. Patent Office," Google stated.
That aside, Restivo argues it's way too soon to expect device makers like Samsung to abandon Android in favor of Windows Phone. First off, the verdict is going to be appealed, which could drag on for years. One eWEEK analysis
of the verdicts raises serious questions about the validity of the jury's decisions.
In the wake of the verdicts, though, Apple requested that U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, who presided over the trial, impose an injunction that would ban the sale in the U.S. of eight Samsung phone models found to have infringed on Apple patents. That issue also will take time to be decided and appealed.
In terms of the sales ban, many of the devices listed by Apple are older Samsung models, and given that most smartphones have a shelf life of just nine to 12 months, they could be retired by the time there's a ruling, making the injunction moot, Restivo said.
Furthermore, the verdict only applies in the United States, and Samsung could still sell Android smartphones and tablets elsewhere in the world, he said. Add to that the fact that there are a total of nine patent-infringement cases in various stages of litigation-and that Samsung has prevailed in some of them-the legal waters are even murkier. So the argument that the verdicts in San Jose could indirectly boost the prospects of Windows Phone over Android is tenuous, Restivo says.
"The verdict was clearly a blow to Samsung, but it is in no way a blow to its global ambitions and its stature as the top global phone maker," he said. "And so any potential benefit to Windows Phone is very abstract and indirect at this point. It's fuzzy at best."
However, what bodes well for Windows Phone is its partnership with Nokia to replace its Symbian OS with the Microsoft OS. While the success of the Nokia-Microsoft partnership has been modest so far, sales are headed in the right direction, said Restivo.
Also, while smartphone penetration is strong in the U.S. and in other generally prosperous countries, Nokia is strong in many other countries where consumers are still using mostly feature phones. It is these markets where Windows Phone-powered Nokia phones have the potential to gain serious traction, he said.
"Nokia shipped 84 million phones last quarter, so it's still the world's No. 2 phone maker [after Samsung]," Restivo noted.