Android Designers Seek Distance From Apple Smartphones
Samsung's $1.05 billion patent infringement loss against Apple sends Android designers back to their drawing boards. Is there a safe, smart, and marketable smartphone design that's very different?
In the aftermath of the trial, many manufacturers are rethinking how close their designs come to the iPhone, going back to the drawing board to put more distance between themselves and the patented iPhone designs on file.
Samsung has dropped rubberbanding, a.k.a. bounce-back, in its popular Galaxy S III phones, one of the infringement claims against it in the U.S. District Court trial. The bounce-back effect occurs when a user reaches the edge of an electronic document and, rather allowing him to become disoriented in white space, the user interface returns to the center of the document. Samsung has substituted a blue glow for the bounce-back feature to warn a user that he's approaching an edge.
"Competitors will start to make more deliberate differences in their models from Apple's. That could be quite disruptive" to their production schedules in the near term, said Ovum telecommunications analyst Jan Dawson, in an interview.
[ Want to learn more about how Apple has built a patent portfolio with an unusual emphasis on design patents? See Apple Beats Competition With Design--And Design Patents. ]
Apple "laid down the foundation for how consumers expect a smartphone to appear," with a large touchscreen on a black, rectangular handheld device. Coming up with variations that are equally appealing to consumers "will be expensive" for companies such as LG or HTC, which have fallen on hard times as their models got crowded out by the iPhone's success, he said.
During the trial, Apple's attorneys held up a RIM Blackberry and a Nokia Lumia as examples of how some smartphone makers are able to produce designs that don't mimic the iPhone. But Dawson noted that advice wasn't all that helpful as design guidance. Neither of the cited models has been doing very well in the marketplace.
Nevertheless, smartphone producers should be able to build enough variation into their designs to produce appealing units and be back in production within a few months. The Apple vs. Samsung trial focused on seven specific patents, which gives designers specific goals to design around, he noted. That won't always forestall a future suit by Apple. If a competitor presses Apple too closely in the future, it may be cited for infringing patents that were not litigated in Apple vs. Samsung. Apple owns 763 design patents on its products, which make up 11.6% of its patent portfolio, according to the patent database MDB Capital Group, a bank with a lending practice based on intellectual property.
Christopher Carani, chairman of the American Bar Association's design rights committee and a partner in McAndrews, Held, & Malloy in Chicago, said Apple was upholding a high standard in industrial design that other smartphone manufacturers should heed. "I am highly confident that the world's leading industrial designers, including the impressive young American industrial designers, will rise to the challenge of creating ... different smartphone designs," he said in an interview.
He acknowledged, however, that will be an expense for any smartphone manufacturer and the process will lead to delays in new models. Both developments will temporarily give Apple a stronger hand in the marketplace.