Without radical change in patent law, Android's ecosystem will die

Summary:Only the invalidation of Apple's utility and design patents will save Android from possible extinction as a widely-used mobile device platform.

But what about Amazon, who uses Android as the software foundation of their Kindle Fire tablets?

Amazon has managed to avoid Apple's legal crosshairs by creating a distinct trade dress for the Kindle Fire and also a unique user interface which looks nothing like iOS and by the same token, nothing like Android.

Even if it were to be determined by Apple internally that the Kindle Fire infringes on their own utility patents, it is very unlikely that Apple would pursue a legal confrontation like we have seen with Samsung.

As the largest online retailer in the world, Amazon represents a critical sales channel for Apple products, so Cupertino is not stupid enough to poison its own well. If it came to it, Tim Cook would license via FRAND what is necessary to Jeff Bezos in what would amount to chump change for Amazon.

In fact, Amazon may be the company which could benefit most from the misfortunes of other Android OEMs.

As I said in my article over the weekend Amazon could end up owning the bulk of the Android tablet and device market , if any variation of the worst-case scenarios I mentioned earlier come to pass.

If Google is forced to consolidate its resources and moves exclusively towards a strategy of releasing Nexus products designed and built by ODMs to be the public face of Android, rather than the fragmented device ecosystem that is under bombardment by Apple in the courts now.

Amazon is in an excellent position to become the primary supplier of Android tablets , as my ZDNet colleague David Chernicoff noted recently.

Amazon has proven it can market the devices cheaper than Google and its OEM partners by having them ad-subsidized, while at the same time providing a more integrated content consumption ecosystem of books, movies and apps.

And Amazon as the world's most prominent internet retailer has a weapon that neither Google nor any of its partners have: Prime, which it can use as a value-added benefit to using Kindle Fires in the form of more and more free incentives to those who subscribe to the service.

And as to where the OEMs might go if they have to abandon the Android smartphone and tablet market, the answer to that is an obvious one.

I believe Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT would be excellent alternative platforms for OEMs to pursue. Samsung has already done this by previewing the ATIV line of products it has shown most recently at the IFA in Berlin.

While the platform has not experienced tremendous success in the consumer space like Apple's iPhone or the offerings from Android OEMs, Windows Phone/Windows RT/Windows 8 has a unique trade dress and industrial design that sets it apart from the iOS design and utility patents.

So Microsoft's mobile offerings (and those of its OEMs) are safe from Apple litigation in that respect.

It should also be noted that Apple and Microsoft have always been at some form of detente because Redmond develops critical apps for Apple platforms, such as Office the Mac.

Microsoft has also licensed ActiveSync to Apple in order to make corporate Exchange email functionality work on iOS. So the two are in sort of a Ying and Yang balance and have agreed to tango with each other.

Topics: Mobility, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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