The recent ruling in Apple's lawsuit against Samsung has hit a historical landmark, as the jury awarded over a billion dollars in damages to Apple. This isn't a minor spat between two giants. The magnitude of the result will actually affect the mobile landscape... and thus, how you manage your mobile web marketing strategy.
More Variety Of Mobile Offerings
As we discuss in our workshops on converting your website for mobile, mobile design's biggest challenge has always been device fragmentation. Americans use hundreds of smartphone models to browse the web every day, and thousands worldwide. How do you make your mobile design consistent across so many different platforms?
This has become easier in the past year because of the dominance of iPhone and Android. The recent US mobile statistics show about 80% of all mobile web browsing is done on these two platforms. These share a large, rectangular touch screen, use WebKit-based browsers, and have certain user interface similarities. This has made it easier to make a compelling mobile design that looks great on both iPhone and Android.
If the recent ruling stands, legal factors will essentially force new differences to emerge just to stay clear of any possible infringement. This can only lead to greater fragmentation and variety on the mobile web. Designers and IT teams will have to work harder to ensure consistency of visual branding, appearance and behavior across different mobile platforms.
Likely Higher Market Shares For Windows Phone & Blackberry
In the USA, the smartphone game has become mostly a two horse race. The iPhone and Android combined market share has reached 40% of all mobile phones, as of June 2012, with third place going to Blackberry at only 5%. Windows Phone 7 has lagged even more.
Unless the verdict is reversed on appeal, or the damages greatly reduced from $1 billion, that is almost certain to change.
Frankly, this verdict is fantastic news for both RIM (the maker of Blackberry) and for Microsoft (Windows Phone). Android has by far the highest US market share of any mobile platform (24.3% in June 2012). It will be a tall order for them to maintain this lead if this ruling stands, and they are indeed required to significantly change the interface. (And thus, how you interact with the phone).
Those people who don't like the new Android will have to go somewhere. Some, but likely not all, will get an iPhone. Many of the rest will get Blackberrys or Windows Phones. When the ruling was announced, I bet you could hear champagne bottles popping in the offices of RIM and Microsoft.
Constrained Medium-Term Innovation
In my view, as the founder of a mobile technology company, this ruling is harmful to the USA. Smartphones today are miraculous devices, capable of so much that even a few decades ago would have seemed like magic. (To me, they still do, sometimes.)
But these magical devices are like icebergs: what you can see, what you can directly relate to and interact with on their surface, is only a tiny fraction of what they are capable of. And this trial focused on a tiny handful of many, many critical elements.
How many? To get a sense of proportion, this ruling covered six total patents. Is $1 billion for six patents a lot? Well, patent licensing firm RPX estimates a typical smartphone's features may be affected by as many as 250,000 patents.
Now, a patent licensing firm has an incentive to overestimate here, so the real number is likely lower. But even if it's a factor of ten down, at 25,000 patents, and then you ignore 90% of those patents as low-quality or irrelevant... for 2,500 patents per phone, you are still talking about a lot of licensing fees. Especially if the going rate is $1 billion for three utility and three design patents.
The real problem is that too many US patents are being granted for things they should not be. To any software engineer worthy of their craft, patenting "Pinch to Zoom" makes about as much sense as a patent on exchanging business cards. But up until this ruling, smartphone makers were able to ignore all this, because they didn't believe the courts would actually enforce it monetarily.
As a proud American, I'm certain this trend will ultimately reverse. But for now, we must assume the US smartphone market will innovate more insularly, each company building primarily on their own past innovations, and not on the state of the art as a whole.
This will slow down the rate of progress a bit. Imagine if, out of hundreds of fast-food restaurant chains nationwide, only one of them had drive-through windows, because they had been granted a patent on it. There would be far less competitive pressure to improve the drive-through experience. (A good recent example: If you plan to eat while driving, In-N-Out Burger in California now asks if you want special packaging that makes it easier to cleanly eat in your car.)
In marketing terms, that means improvements in mobile technology - and thus, improvements in those channels and marketing tools built on them - will come more slowly. This can be a good thing if you are behind on your mobile marketing initiatives. It also gives you less opportunity get ahead of your competitors via mobile, though. So you will need to make the most of your mobile campaigns, extracting as much ROI and results from them as you can.