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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?

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Apple's $1.05 billion win over Samsung in a U.S. District Court jury trial is a setback for Apple's rival smartphone manufacturers and Google's Android mobile operating system. But after a temporary delay, they are likely to bring fresh designs to market.

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.

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Andrew Hornback
Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/11/2012 | 2:32:55 AM
re: Android Designers Seek Distance From Apple Smartphones
WebOS was great... when it was running on hardware that worked.

The biggest problem that I ever had with my Palm Pre Plus was that the underlying hardware was, to put it mildly, junk. By the time my second refurbished model bit the dust, I'd already started writing technical documentation and shipping it off to Palm of the various failure modes that I was seeing with the device.

WebOS also had promise... but that ended when HP couldn't figure out whether it was going to pull an IBM and divest it's consumer grade hardware division or not.

At this point, I'm willing to see what Microsoft has in it's bag of tricks with the new Windows Phone OS. However, I'm somewhat betting on the idea that it's going to be a big fumble and you're going to see Nokia and RIM merge to keep each other afloat.

I'm still hoping for a device that matches my old BlackBerry 8830 with regards to dependability. So far, I've experience failures from Motorola and Palm. Jury is still out on my current Samsung device - although I'm surprised at its lack of physical durability.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
User Rank: Apprentice
9/8/2012 | 7:28:27 PM
re: Android Designers Seek Distance From Apple Smartphones
The blue glow is vanilla Android, Samsung ADDED the bounce back feature in their TouchWiz "skin".
What a lot of Android users would like to see is fewer and fewer modifications to stock Android by the manufacturers. People could learn a more unified system and not have to put up with the garbage. Google and Android could cross license and everyone would benefit from that point on and updates would come out in a timely fashion because the manufacturers wouldn't have to rework their skins and bloatware each time.

Call me a dreamer.
User Rank: Ninja
9/8/2012 | 1:05:36 PM
re: Android Designers Seek Distance From Apple Smartphones
Are there different designs? Yes. there are, but they are either discontinued (Symbian), not used on smartphones (WebOS), or have practically zero market share (Windows Phone OS). Fact is, the mobile industry is in constant change. Anything that is six months old is totally outdated. Same applies to mobile apps. There may be a few that are excellent enough to stick around for a while, but they all are obsolete within a year or two. That said, make something for today and do so quickly. While cashing in start working on the next thing, whatever that may be.
User Rank: Strategist
9/7/2012 | 6:53:41 PM
re: Android Designers Seek Distance From Apple Smartphones
It's funny how Samsung fans have tried to convince others the the Samsung copy-cat phones were an unavoidable "evolutionary" design that could only be similar to Apple's iPhone designs.

The reality is that the possibilities for designs that are substantially different than the iPhone's are equal to infinity-minus-one.

Other phone manufacturers (examples: Nokia, RIM, Motorola) have had no problem at all coming up with unique designs for their products.

One side not: The beautifully designed Nokia 900 series phones are uniquely designed when compared to other mobile phones... but not when compared to Apple's iPod nano. ;-)
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