For those of you not fascinated by geeky court battles, Samsung was found guilty yesterday of violating several Apple patents governing the look and feel and behavior of their mobile phones and ordered to pay $1 billion in damages.
Now, Samsung is Apple’s biggest supplier of microprocessors and nobody expects that relationship to change – after all, what’s a billion among friends?
And, of course, there will be appeals and legal wrangling; the amount of the verdict might go down or even up under judicial review. This is courts and lawyers, so the more time it takes, the more everybody gets paid – and the people who make the rules for lawyers are lawyers, so guess whose interests get served first?
But I digress.
The verdict will likely have several effects fairly soon, assuming it stands. There will surely be more lawsuits against other companies using the Android operating system, because Google’s Android is the actual offending party here – and the real target of the suit.
Samsung basically argued that the icons and control actions they’d copped from Apple (they didn’t bother pretending they weren’t the same) were inevitable, that pinching and widening your fingers to zoom out, for example, was nothing unique – surely people make that movement all the time.
And surely there is a real advantage for consumers in having the ‘controls’ of mobile phones act the same across all brands – when you get in a car of any make, for example, you know what the steering wheel, brake and accelerator are for. It would be a mess if you had to relearn how to drive each make separately.
But the truth is, these are not automatic motions – at least they weren’t before the iPhone came along. There are a hundred different finger movements that could be used to signal a zoom. Apple’s genius is in figuring out means to make complex tasks feel natural – and even fun. So the verdict is a victory for the innovators, the guys who sweated the details, who decided that most people would feel comfortable using this particular move for this particular function.
So now – and, to me, this is the only really interesting part of all this – maybe we’ll see some real alternatives. Microsoft, of all people, has recently come up with a mobile operating system that doesn’t crib from Apple. Now Google will have to do the same.
So maybe we’ll get to experience some other moves that work almost as well, as well or even better than Apple’s. Maybe we’ll find out that Apple doesn’t own the only geniuses in user experience. Because now, makers of these devices will have to do their own homework and see if they can’t actually improve on the status quo instead of just copying it.
On the rare occasion that I watch the business channels or the rarer occasion that I watch anything (other than the Simpsons) on Fox, the ‘experts’ are always saying that capitalism is wonderful because it encourages innovation and ruthless competition among creative alternatives. And I look around and see instead a landscape of monopolies, semi-monopolies or wannabe monopolies protecting their turf by whatever means they can get away with, doing far more intimidating than innovating.
Maybe now we’ll get the chance to see if those business channels are right.