BitDepth#852 - September 18

Apple wins their case against Samsung, but what does this mean for technology customers?
Apple vs Samsung: Who wins?
iMore guessed where Apple’s iPhone would fit in the current smartphone firmament.

On August 24, Apple won a judgement worth US$1.05 billion against Samsung in a case that hinged on usability and design in smartphones.
It was complex trial and one that proved challenging for everyone involved, including Federal Judge Lucy Koh who at one point challenged an Apple lawyer’s legal motion by asking him whether he was smoking crack.

Patent law is a challenging enough area of legal contest without adding in the nuances that must be challenged (derided at one point by Samsung as a defence against rounded rectangles), the difficulty of explaining the design process and the points in contention to the court, the vast sums of money being spent and the speed with which such arguments can become technologically obsolete.

The fierceness of Apple’s defence was as likely inspired by the ultimate cost of their loss against Microsoft in earlier look and feel contests over their desktop operating system as it was by the late Steve Jobs’ insistence that he intended to go “thermonuclear” over the Android operating system.

It’s been a fierce legal battle, with millions spent on both sides to defend their positions and a result that while decisive, is far from over.
Judge Koh’s billion dollar award fell short of the US$2.5 billion that Apple was seeking and it’s encouraged the Cupertino company to amplify its efforts, adding a slew of new Samsung devices, up to and including the new SIII, to its ongoing legal campaign.

And this isn’t just a fight with Samsung, it’s a battle with the whole Android software ecosystem. With multiple vendors offering variants on Google’s mobile OS, Apple faces a battle opening on multiple fronts to challenge its dominant position in the smartphone and tablet markets.

The iPhone creator has trod this legal ground before, losing the look and feel/usability battle with Microsoft almost before it properly began by being pursuing less than dogged in its legal challenges against Windows.
That was a case of too little too late, and with the rate of today’s software development, it isn’t clear that despite Apple’s vigorous and early defense of its innovations with iOS, the operating system that paved the way for today’s touchscreen, keypad-less phones, that it isn’t too late to the legal dance again.

Android’s pervasiveness, only likely to grow as the OS matures and Google works on limiting the fracturing of its precious codebase, is already beginning, with
Nikon’s new Coolpix S800c emerging as one of the first point and shoot cameras to use the OS, opening a new bridge between smartphones and traditional photographic devices.

The S800c, which also includes WiFi, is an Internet enabled camera capable of accessing and using apps from Google’s Play Store. WiFi transfers on today’s high-end digital cameras are a more complicated affair, involving specialised devices and fussy, non-intuitive connections. Where there is complexity, simplicity and accessibility have a way of succeeding quickly.

Apple isn’t likely to begin licensing either MacOS X or iOS to third parties for inclusion in their devices, so it’s going to have to work harder at stepping up its game and clarifying its market position against a wide range of Android based products.
The company has won a potent victory in its first round against Samsung, who were careless, in every technical estimation, in their close tracking of Apple’s successful hardware and software.

With a lackluster iPhone 5 up against the considerable clout of the Samsung SIII and a resurgent Microsoft/Nokia, Apple is no longer in an infallible position. This legal triumph will push Samsung and other manufacturers using Android to be more inventive in their designs in the future, making it more difficult to make a similar case as time passes.

With modern prototyping, just in time manufacturing and rapid software evolution, the similarities between the devices and the software that they run will be challenged sooner, not later by manufacturers, Samsung among them, who hope to win their way into consumer pockets.

Market competition this fierce always profits customers in the end, and the confusion of today’s similar interface and usability designs will sort itself out, not least because of Judge Koh’s ruling.
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