Apple's iPad has competition, if only conceptually, before it has even shipped.
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Apple iPad Launch in Pictures
At an Apple town hall meeting last week, CEO Steve Jobs reportedly said that Google wants to kill the iPhone. An account posted on the Daring Fireball blog says the precise quote was "teams at Google want to kill us," specifically Google's Android team.
That Jobs might say such a thing in a public forum, where the message would almost certainly be leaked, suggests a deliberate effort to warn Google and other companies that Apple intends to defend its iPhone, iPod, and iPad ecosystem against all comers.
Perhaps Jobs noticed that two days before he introduced the "revolutionary" and "magical' iPad, Glen Murphy, a designer and engineer on Google's Chrome team, had posted mock-ups for how a Chrome OS tablet might work. It's a hypothetical "gPad," or would be were that name not even more fraught with potential for ridicule than the name "iPad."
If Google is out to get Apple, the Chrome OS team is aiming in the same direction as the Android team. But really, everyone in the computer industry is headed that way -- toward managed devices, mobility and cloud computing.
Officially, Google says this is just a possible design that's being floated through the Chromium development effort, the open source project behind Chrome OS.
"Google Chrome OS is still in development and we are constantly experimenting with various user interfaces to determine what designs would produce the best user experience," said a Google spokesperson via e-mail. "As we've said all along, the UI is still under development and will continue to evolve as we determine which designs work best for our users."
The target date for Chrome OS hardware remains unchanged: Q4 2010.
What's interesting about the mock-up is that while the video shows the Chrome OS device responding to touch interaction, there's also some multi-touch interaction -- the user resizes a page using two hands. The reason this is significant is because multi-touch support has been conspicuously absent from Android devices.
Speculation about the reason for this centers around Apple's iPhone touch interface patent. However, as MIT computer science grad student Luke Hutchison explained last year, the absence of multi-touch in various iterations of Android is a function of priorities and hardware makers' preferences rather than fear of Apple's patents.
To make it clear that Google isn't going to abstain from using multi-touch in Chrome OS, Murphy on his blog provides a set of touch user-interface mock-up gestures that include iPhone-style resizing pinches.
That's not to say Apple couldn't assert patent rights to protect the iPhone, but Google has patents too. Were either company to launch patent litigation against the other, it would likely be hugely expensive and damaging to both companies. Such litigation, like Nokia's patent lawsuit against Apple, tends to be a last resort for large companies, after marketplace battles are lost.
In the case of Apple and Google, that battle is just beginning.