Apple Suit Threatens Wide-Ranging Effects

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2010-03-18

10 Reason Why the Apple Lawsuit with HTC Could Set Back the Mobile Industry

In a statement released earlier this week, HTC said that it plans to vigorously fight the patent infringement suit Apple recently filed against it. The company contends that it is without fault and in no way violated patents Apple currently holds in any of its Android-based phones or Windows Mobile devices.

At this point, both companies are posturing. If no settlement can be reached, we can expect a long and drawn-out legal battle that will cost the companies both money and time. In either case, it's not a rosy outcome for either side. But it might not be a rosy outcome for the mobile market either. Apple's lawsuit is far-reaching, and if it wins on even just a few of its charges, the company could drastically change the mobile industry.

Going forward, every company offering a mobile device needs to watch this lawsuit carefully. If it turns out badly for HTC, Apple could have a field day with other firms in the business. And the mobile market will suffer.

Here's why:

1. Apple has its precedent

Apple's decision to sue HTC before any other vendors is rooted in its desire to set a precedent by which it can target other companies in the space. If Apple either settles with HTC or wins the case, the company could potentially bring suit against other phone vendors it believes are violating the same patents and make them either pay up or stop offering their products. We need competition in the mobile market. If companies fear Apple, it could kill off much of the iPhone's competition.

2. Android is a viable iPhone alternative

If nothing else, Apple's HTC lawsuit shows just how badly Steve Jobs and Company wants to take down Android. The lawsuit includes several Android features that Apple takes issue with. The company even went so far as to buy Android-based HTC devices to give the court physical evidence showing the similarities between Google's OS and Apple's. If Apple has its way, it will seriously hobble Android OS, widely considered the only viable alternative to the iPhone. That could negatively affect vendors, carriers and even consumers.

3. Google is next

Make no mistake, if Apple wins its case against HTC, the company will take its victory to Google's doorstep. Apple has a real problem with Google. In recent months, the battle between the two companies has heated up and a war of words has erupted. Apple's lawsuit can be the company's trump card. It can target Android and force Google to drastically change its operating system. If that happens, Google's OS could be put into a precarious position as it tries desperately to compete with iPhone OS.

4. Where will it stop?

If Apple targets Google, when will the company stop? Depending on how the lawsuit is settled, Apple might have the ammo it needs to take on Microsoft, RIM and other Android vendors. At this point, Apple has only indicated that it has issues with HTC, but if it wins in court, there is no telling who might get drawn into the same legal morass. As farfetched as it may seem right now, Apple might be able to systematically dismantle any and all competition.

Apple Suit Threatens Wide-Ranging Effects

5. Apple's power would grow

The last thing the mobile market needs right now is a more powerful Apple. The problem with the iPhone is that it has cornered the consumer market and effectively ensured that if any company wants to steal market share away from Apple, it will need to deliver something revolutionary that even Steve Jobs hasn't thought about. That's a tall order. But if Apple is armed with a successful lawsuit against HTC, its power in the mobile space would only solidify, making it an even more dangerous competitor for the rest of the market.

6. Unlock behavior would be gone

Assuming Apple wins its case against HTC, the company would conceivably become the only company allowed to offer touch-screen-unlock functionality. According to the lawsuit, Apple has earned a patent for the way users swipe across the iPhone's display when they want to access its main screen. That patent is extremely broad. If Apple wins its case against HTC, the company could potentially take down any other vendor that even attempts to offer unlock behavior in their phone's software. Considering that the unlock mechanic has become such an integral part of the touch-screen market, it could have far-reaching effects on users too.

7. The great browser setback

Apple's lawsuit explicitly targets the way users can interact with HTC's Android browser. Thanks to HTC devices' touch screen, users can drag their finger around a Web page from within the Android browser. The feature is similar to the functionality offered in Apple's Mobile Safari browser. If Apple wins its case on that patent, just about every other Android-based vendor would need to totally revamp how the browser in their devices interacts with users. How is that for damaging to the mobile market?

8. Screen shut-off too

Apple's lawsuit also includes a patent detailing how the iPhone's display turns off when it's brought to the user's ear. Apple claims HTC's devices perform a very similar action, allegedly causing the company to violate its patent. Screen shut-off is one of the most important features built into touch-based phones. Without it, users could press keys while talking or inadvertently perform actions. Without screen shut-off built into every touch-based device, the market could see a noticeable shift in consumer desire away from non-Apple products.

9. We don't need worried vendors

The last thing users need is worried vendors questioning whether or not they can add respective features to their products. Apple's lawsuit sends a message to other companies in the mobile market that Jobs isn't willing to allow smaller firms to pick up the scraps his company leaves behind. He's making it blatantly clear that, going forward, Apple wants to be the dominant company in the market. With a victory in the HTC lawsuit, it's one step closer. Vendors, worried that they will be Apple's next victim, could hold back features that they fear would violate one of Apple's many patents. That's the last thing the mobile market needs.

10. Where to from here?

Once Apple is done levying lawsuits on the competition, where does the mobile market go? The space is moving toward touch screens at an astounding rate. More and more users are looking for touch displays in their products. But they also want the functionality offered in the iPhone. If Apple has its way, only it will deliver an experience consumers and enterprise customers covet. And it could single-handedly change the way every company in the market operates.

Make no mistake, Apple's HTC lawsuit could set the mobile industry back. It's that far-reaching.


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