Apple co-founder Steve Jobs believed Google's Android mobile operating system was a stolen product and said he was ready to fight to destroy it.
"I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product," he said, according to biographer Walter Issacson. "I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this."
Apple has not quite gotten to nukes, but it has taken aim at Google and pulled the trigger. It launched patent lawsuits against Google's Android hardware partners, HTC in 2010 and Samsung in 2011. It challenged Google on its home turf, advertising, with the introduction of iAd. It began working with mobile carriers beyond AT&T in the United States to limit Android adoption in markets where it had withheld the iPhone. And it launched iCloud.
At its Worldwide Developers Conference Monday, the gloves came off. Apple revealed that Google would no longer provide the backend map technology for the iOS Maps app. The divorce affects all iOS developers who use iOS Map APIs: Apps approved for iOS 6 must use Apple's Map Kit API, which no longer utilizes Google's map services.
[ Take a look at Apple's updates revealed at WWDC. See Apple WWDC: 17 Cool Innovations. ]
Apple is not without allies in its war on Google. Microsoft has convinced most of the Android handset makers to enter into patent licensing agreements, which make Android more expensive to distribute. And Microsoft's complaints about Google's search business, along with complaints from like-minded Web companies, have regulators poised to punish Google for anti-competitive behavior. Oracle sued Google claiming that Android violated its patents and copyrights, but lost in court.
Nonetheless, Android continues to thrive. Google's head of Android, Andy Rubin, recently said via Twitter than Android activations had reached 900,000 per day, up from 850,000 per day in February.
And Apple's legal campaign against Android has suffered some setbacks. Last week, Judge Richard Posner, overseeing Apple's claim against Motorola Mobility, now owned by Google, tentatively decided to dismiss the case because neither party had established a right to relief.
Apple claims Motorola's Xoom tablet and Droid violate its patents, and Google claims Apple infringes a Motorola cellular patent.
Apple caught a break on Thursday when the judge reversed himself and decided to hear Apple's arguments for an injunction. But Judge Posner's initial inclination to dismiss the case suggests Apple faces an uphill fight.
Earlier this week, Judge Lucy Koh, hearing Apple's patent infringement claims against Samsung, issued an order indicating that she would not issue an injunction to block Samsung's Galaxy S III smartphone prior to its June 21 release.
Two weeks from now, Google will get to fire back at its own developer conference. Android 5.0 (Jelly Bean) is expected to be shown, along with an Asus-made Google Nexus tablet.
This isn't a war Apple can win by litigation. It may achieve some success in court, but patent infringement claims won't make Google, Android, or Google's hardware partners disappear. There's almost certainly a way around Apple's patents, as Google's victory over Oracle's claims demonstrated. And even if Apple had been successful in blocking the import of Samsung's Galaxy S III, phone models can be reconfigured so they don't infringe. Plus, there's always another competitor to step in when one is stymied.
Apple CEO Tim Cook appears to recognize that litigation isn't the way. Bequeathed Jobs' war, he has indicated he's less enthusiastic about fighting over Android than his predecessor. During Apple's Q2 2012 financial call, he opened the door to negotiating an end to the conflict.
"I've always hated litigation, and I continue to hate it," Cook said. "We just want people to invent their own stuff. And so if we could get to some kind of arrangement where we could be assured that's the case and a fair settlement on the stuff that's occurred, I would highly prefer to settle versus battle. But it--the key thing is that it's very important that Apple not become the developer for the world. We need people to invent their own stuff."
The thing is they don't. Technology companies build using other people's stuff. They stand on the shoulders of giants. That's not to say there isn't genuine innovation out there, innovation that deserves the protection of the patent system. There is. But most of what's being patented isn't genuinely innovative.
To fight Google, Apple has to change. Yes, Apple is one of the most successful companies in the world at the moment, but it is only one company. It seeks to control too much, and in so doing, it stands to lose out on the next big opportunity, the Internet of Things.