How Apple’s victory over Samsung will affect you: The good and the bad

apple samsung iphone court case patent war

On Friday, a jury of nine unanimously decreed what we already knew: Samsung copied the iPhone. Samsung got greedy and made smartphones, for a while, that hit a little too close to Home for Apple. Samsung phones mimicked everything from the iPhone’s overall design to its Home button, and even its squared, colorful icons. Perhaps most ridiculous, Samsung, for a time, even copied the fun, uniquely Apple, rubberbanding effect that happens when you’re scrolling through data on an iPhone or iPad.

Because of how obvious this copying was, Apple has won $1 billion in damages from Samsung. This victory is huge and it may have negative impacts on phones already released and those coming out in the future. Android phones, which currently comprise 60-70 percent of all smartphones sold around the world, could lose key functionality. Many of them could be taken off the market or be drastically redesigned so that they don’t remotely resemble the iPhone. Let’s examine the ways Samsung’s loss might have screwed things up for Android users.

What’s at stake

Mac and PC holding handsBefore we fly in head first, let’s detail exactly what’s at stake and why all this is happening.

Despite the fact that Xerox first invented things like icons, folders, and many other standards of computing devices today, both Apple and Microsoft have been working separately (together) to take down an emerging common enemy: Google. With Android, Google is becoming a big player in smartphones, tablets, and is already entering the PC space. Google built Android on top of Linux and has given it away to manufacturers for free. Microsoft hates Android because it makes its living selling operating systems, not giving them away. Apple hates Android because it is riding on the success of the iPhone, which single-handedly ignited the smartphone business, and is now becoming the Windows of the phone and tablet world.

For decades, Microsoft and Apple battled one another, but they resolved their differences long ago and signed large cross-licensing patent agreements. Apple even showed a Nokia Windows Phone at the Samsung trial as an example of a phone that isn’t copying the iPhone. 

To try and stop or slow Android, Microsoft has bullied nearly every Android manufacturer into paying it licensing fees of $5-$15 per Android device sold. Apple’s preferred method of attacking Android has been to sue the pants off of every company making Android devices. Samsung and HTC have been its top targets. Apple and Microsoft probably aren’t calling each other up on the phone each night to cackle at their progress against Android, but they do have a mutual interest in keeping the status quo. Google scares them. (Learn more about how this lawsuit affects Android.)

With that out of the way, let’s press on.

Zooming is going to get difficult

Pinch to zoom

Two of the key patents that the jury just upheld were for “pinch to zoom” and “double tap to zoom.” Pinching and double tapping to zoom are natural touch gestures we all use constantly to zoom in on web pages, maps, and all kinds of things on phones. Simple hand gestures should not be patentable. Regardless of my thoughts, we can expect Samsung and many other major Android manufacturers (maybe even Google) to remove this functionality from future phones and possibly from phones already on the market via an over-the-air update. How will we zoom now? Well, we’ll probably have to tap an onscreen zoom bar or something stupid. Not cool.

No “rubber banding”

While few Android phones have this effect, likely for fear of angering Apple, don’t expect any of them to gain it anytime soon. Because of this lawsuit, iOS devices will likely be the only phones that allow you to pull (stretch) a page beyond its scrolling point and then release it to watch it snap back in place. It’s purely an ornamental design element, but it is one of those small things that makes the iPhone so fun to use. Google and other manufacturers have already used bands of color and other effects to hide their mimicry of Apple’s scrolling effect. Expect more experiments in the future, but nothing that too closely resembles Apple.

No “slide to unlock”

Slide to unlock buttonWhether you’ve realized it or not, most Android phones have already been affected by Apple’s litigation. Though this trial didn’t involve “slide to unlock” patent at the end, other Apple lawsuits have, and you can bet that Android manufacturers are going to try to avoid any gesture or software patents Apple has actively protected. Most Android phones have already been altered to avoid breaking this patent. Most newer Android phones do not unlock with a straight left-to-right sliding motion anymore (or at least a bar that you swipe across). Expect the onscreen ways you unlock your phone to get stranger as time goes on. 

>> Next page: Android could lose more than a few gestures

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