Some are saying that Apple asked Google to disable multi-touch in Android. Some are saying that Google never had anything to worry about. And, others are saying that Palm just waited for things to cool off.
They’re all wrong. I’m going to tell you how this is all a concerted effort, against Apple.
It was no secret when Apple COO Tim Cook stated that Apple would aggressively protect its newly-minted patents on iPhone… that they were pointing that finger at HTC, Palm, Google, and the rest of the wireless industry.
Apple spent years of time and effort shoring up the team, technology, and software to make multi-touch work. That investment has already paid off, but Apple does not want a repeat of Apple v. Microsoft. They want this patent to stick.
But, the industry has been working in a concerted effort to undermine this patent. The sheer success of iPhone has prompted the industry to spend untold millions to replicate the multi-conductive technology in their existing gear. And, that hardware has wound up in many shipping devices; the HTC Touch Pro, and Google’s T-Mobile G1. However, both have left the multi-touch capacity disabled.
This was done on purpose, but it was not done because Apple asked. It was done because they were waiting for the time to be right.
Enter Palm. The Pre benefits from Apple management (John Rubenstein, Palm’s Chief Executive, is indeed the father of iPod… and set in motion the iPhone). And, Palm will be the first company to tap HTC’s multi-touch hardware (HTC is, after all, the ODM for the Pre).
But, here’s the kicker: While the Pre may have a short lead time with multi-touch, HTC will shortly thereafter issue firmware updates for the Touch Pro variants to enable multi-touch on them as well. And, you can expect Google to do the same shortly after that.
Why enable multi-touch all at once? To make Apple look like the SCO Group. Apple will be in a position at that point to have to sue not one, but three different multi-touch manufacturers. Even though HTC’s hardware lies at the core of all three devices, Apple will now appear to be the bad guy; on a patent witch hunt.
This type of obfuscation makes Apple look bad in the consumer’s eye, since it will appear that multiple companies are coming up with multi-touch technology out of their own R&D efforts. That undermines the credibility of the Apple patent, as well as its legal footing in originality.
Apple knows this, and that is why they are being so threatening in their conference calls. They know that this is coming. And, it appears that they will try to tie this all up in one case, claiming Google, Palm. and HTC are working together to ship the same hardware (the same multi-touch display technology) in several devices at once (both by shipping new gear, and via firmware updates on a few 2008 phones).
Remember, Apple has always held a competitive grudge against HTC. You’ll notice that Apple has not acknowledged HTC’s existence directly hardly ever. When Apple makes comparisons to Windows Mobile devices, they specifically ignore HTC products… even if it would improve their argument. We’ve seen it keynote after keynote, and it’s not a secret.
As such, Apple will claim that this is nothing more than HTC’s shell game. That HTC stole Apple’s patented multi-touch technology, and Palm and Google went along for the multi-touch ride.
Or, Apple will suck it up and go home. That’s not likely considering the extent Apple has aggressively pursued others in the past. Even Apple’s losses in court alone have wound up creating considerable new case law in the world of technology. This is not a foreign territory for them, there’s little risk for Apple to pursue the case. On the other hand, HTC and Palm could risk having products embargoed from sale in the United States, a la Broadcom v Qualcomm.
Even a narrow chance of a victory of that size will likely more than justify Apple’s cost of bringing such a case, and its appeals.
On a lighter note, we’d like to welcome Apple as our new neighbors, when MechaWorks moves to Cupertino next month.