When the Android-powered T-Mobile G1 emerged last year, numerous reviewers took an obvious potshot at the hot new smartphone: No flicking, swiping, pinching, unpinching, or other fun finger movements popularized by Apple's iPhone. An explanation for that omission has been reported, but it leaves more questions than answers.
According to VentureBeat, Apple simply asked Google not to implement multi-touch capabilities in its Android platform for the G1, even though the phone's touchscreen can support it. The information allegedly came from a member of the Android team, who said Google agreed to Apple's request.
Google's decision was apparently a huge relief for the Android team, which was concerned that a hard-headed approach would embroil Android in a messy patent fight that could have delayed the rollout of the G1 for months, if not years.
Avoiding a Patent Fight
Michael Gartenberg, vice president of strategy and analysis for Interpret LLC, said it made sense for Google to heed Apple's wishes, at least in the short term.
"Apple appears to have several patents for the concept of multi-touch as it relates to phones," Gartenberg said. "But it's also important to note that while Apple competes with Google to some extent in this space, Google is also an important partner for Apple on the iPhone and elsewhere."
Among other things, Google has made a concerted effort to format many of its services specifically for the iPhone, and just this week took the unprecedented step of licensing Microsoft's Exchange software so that it could provide real-time synchronization of contacts and calendars on the iPhone.
Google's approach is in stark contrast to Palm, which incorporated multi-touch capabilities in its newest smartphone, the Pre. The ability to swipe and pinch content on the Pre helped make it one of the hot items at last month's Consumer Electronics Show, but Palm (which, interestingly, is well-stocked with former Apple employees) may find itself facing patent-enforcement litigation.
Is That Your Final Answer?
As last year's criticisms by tech analysts amply demonstrates, the multi-touch capability introduced by Apple on the iPod touch and the iPhone was a true game-changer. The movements are so intuitive and efficient that they have become the new standard for smartphone interfaces. That's at least part of the reason that Palm is willing to risk Apple's wrath.
Given its relationship with Apple, Gartenberg thinks Google may be able to work out a deal to incorporate multi-touch in future Android-based phones.
"I'd suspect that if Google were concerned about this as an issue and wanted to implement it," Gartenberg said, "they'd figure out some license terms to make it happen."