Why Apple doesn’t own Android’s future

People have been talking about the Apple v. Samsung verdict all weekend, and what everyone can agree on is that no one can agree on anything. Some say it’s a devastating win for Apple, that essentially every expectation people have about modern smartphones fall under Apple patents. Some say Samsung actually won, that the equivalency of Apple = Samsung in the mind of the price-conscious public is the best billion dollar ad campaign Samsung could have hoped for. Some even say that marginalized players like Microsoft, RIM and Nokia are the big winners now that Samsung, and by extension Android, have been taken down a peg.

These are all interesting suppositions, but not what I want to talk about today. I want to point out that nothing in this trial or verdict means _anything_ to Android going forward.

None of the Samsung phones in question shipped with Android 4+, Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean. None of them show the design aesthetic Mathias Duarte bright with him from the now open source webOS. Much of what makes Android distinctive today–cards in Google Now, the card-like multitasking interface, widgets and icons mixed on the home screen, the Action Bar–are unique to Android or borrowed from Palm, not Apple. If anything, the pull down notifications in iOS 5 are a copy from Android, something I’m sure Google will address in time via Motorola’s patents.

So while this verdict means that Samsung needs to be a bit more creative with device and icon design, something they’ve already done with the Galaxy S III, it really doesn’t have anything to say about other Android phones, especially phones running newer versions of Android. It might even make manufacturers push back against the carriers when the carriers demand the “skins” like Touchwiz and Sense. (I think it’s telling that by far the most blatant iPhone copy was the Verizon Samsung Vibrant, sold when Verizon didn’t have the iPhone and desperately needed something they could sell to people walking into a Verizon stupid looking for one. The Vibrant could easily pass for an iPhone 3GS to an ignorant consumer.) We might see phones a lot closer to stock AOSP going forward as manufacturers sick to Google for cover.

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