The Smartphone War: What Is It and How Does It Affect You?
Unless you have been on a deserted island for the past 6-7 years, it’s impossible not to have heard about all the smartphone wars that have been going on. They’ cold war wonder weapon class re everywhere on the news, you see articles in newspapers, you hear people talking about them on the subway. Hardly a week goes by without another lawsuit in the smartphone technology world. Did you ever stop and wonder why? What’s their angle? What are they trying to achieve? Obviously the answer can be only one: they are trying to own the stack, to get control over the four layers that make up the whole smartphone universe. It’s simple; the more they control, the more ways they’ll have to extort money from you, the average Joe.
Above, I mentioned the four layers of the stack. The smartphone ”universe” is composed of these 4 greatly important parts: Carrier networks (meaning AT&T, Vodafone, Verizon, etc providing the data connection that smartphones use), Devices and their makers (the actual smartphone made by HTC, Samsung, Nokia, which run on the carrier networks), Mobile Operating Systems (representing the software basis that runs on the devices) and last but not least we have Apps and app developers (consisting in all those little programs that run on the devices inside the operating systems. As we tried to explain, all of these layers integrate and are dependent of each other. Whoever is lucky/smart enough to control as much of the layers as possible, has a huge control over consumers and naturally over the revenue stream. Their control is easily exerted through licenses, agreements, trademarks, copyrights and different patents. All that consumers are able to do is fight back through lawsuits and urge governments to adopt consumer protection laws.
These constant skirmishes go back a few years ago, with the first generation of smartphones between Symbian, BlackBerry and the very first versions of iOS. At that time, the mobile OS, Symbian and Windows Mobile weren’t that widely adopted. The hardware as well, wasn’t matured enough, nor was the price. In those days, the companies preferred to just create huge portfolios of tens of thousands of patents. It was very much a cold war, with missiles being aimed at each other and if someone makes even the smallest mistake, the whole smartphone universe blows into pieces. Exactly as the ”Cold War’s ”Mutual Assured Destruction” the companies knew that the best way out of that situation was negotiating, because put it simple…if you shoot, I shoot back and as a consequence we’re all dead. The way of lawsuits and settlements was preferred than that of mutual destruction.
With the launch of Android OS, things got even messier, because this OS enjoyed great success and quick adoption, leaving room for a full war to begin. It didn’t take long until Microsoft sued HTC for infringement on its various Android phones and at the end of the day, the Taiwanese company decided to settle by paying Microsoft a small fee for each phone that it makes. The same things happened between Microsoft and Samsung, and now, Microsoft apparently makes double the money off these two settlements than with its own Windows Phone 7 smartphones. Another important war goes on between Apple and Samsung, a war that without exaggeration ca be called a global world, since it goes by in courts of law from Africa, to most of Europe, India, China, Japan and the U.S. The Cupertino-based company is suing Samsung claiming copyright infringement and patent infringement of many of its designs, such as the iPhone and iPad. In its turn, Samsung also sued Apple all over the world, but they don’t quite seem to have as much success. Anyway, the vast majority of these sorts of patent lawsuits usually end with a cross-licensing deal and maybe even a bit of financial settlement. What this means is that the implicated parties agree to share those patents and this way they can’t be used on each other.