2011…A Year of Tech Mayhem
2011 has turned out to be a very interesting year in the tech industry. Major releases, lawsuits, and huge shake ups. It will definitely be a year to look back on and be thankful we made it through to 2012. Let’s look at some of the highlights we’ve seen so far.
Carrying over from 2010 we have volleys of lawsuits between Apple and HTC, Apple and Motorola, and Apple and Samsung. In July, the International Trade Commission determined that HTC, a major player in the Android handset business, violated two patents held by Apple. One of these patents, 5,946,647, deals with the underlying Android OS itself which could have implications within Google’s entire mobile OS business. HTC still remains confident that they can have the ruling overturned, but there is a possibility that the ITC could ban the sale of HTC Android phones in the US if they are not successful in overturning it or removing the offending code. A similar suits are underway with Motorola and Samsung over Android as well, but they aren’t the only ones that want a piece of the Android pie. Still trying to establish a foothold, Microsoft has already rattled their saber about Android and persuaded HTC to license technology that they supposedly own within the Android OS as well. Microsoft pursued the same licensing agreement with Motorola, but they declined. So it wasn’t that big of a surprise to hear the Redmond company file a suit against Motorola over patent violations within Android as well.
It seems that there was a concerted effort by many of the major players in IT to litigate Android into a niche mobile platform by encumbering it with costly licensing fees. Even Oracle got in on the action when they sued Google over Java patents they gained from the Sun Microsystems acquisition – a suit Google settled by agreeing to pay Oracle damages and licensing fees. A consortium of IT companies, lead by Apple, Microsoft, RIM, Ericsson, and Sony joined together to buy up 6,000 patents held by the now bankrupt Nortel Networks. Google, it was later revealed, was offered to join the same group but declined when Microsoft required Google to agree to items regarding Android that would have left it at a disadvantage to their competition. That didn’t stop Google from placing bids for the same patents, but they knew they stood little chance against so many other companies. This is perhaps the reason why they didn’t fight hard to place a winning bid though they really could have used those patents to help defend Android suits against themselves and their partners.
Meanwhile the first major shocker of the year was about to unfold. While Google was doing their best to fend against lawsuits, they were already working on a backup plan using their hidden ace up the sleeve. A month after loosing their bid for Nortel patents, Google announced that they would be buying Motorola’s mobile division for 12.5 billion – a purchase that gives them access to over 14,000 patents with several thousand patents pending. No longer would competitors to Android be able to skirt Google and sue their partners and now Google has sizable war chest of patents to counter any suits by the competition. The announcement of the purchase sent ripples throughout the entire tech industry. The question was how will this effect Google’s other Android partners? HTC and Samsung both expressed their support, but it will be interesting to see how it all plays out in the Android universe over time. In the meantime, there were other fronts still actively under contention.
Around the same time that Google announced the acquisition of Motorola, a German court ruled that Samsung’s Galaxy line of tablets violated the look and feel, as well as other patents, held by Apple with their hugely popular iPad. As a result of the ruling, Samsung was barred from selling their tablet in the EU. Fanbois everywhere rejoiced while Samsung themselves stated that they were never served with notice of a violation until the ban was ordered – a fact that remains to be verified. Another unverified claim was the recent surfacing of court documents that may indicate that Apple altered documents used to persuade the German court to ban Galaxy tablets. We’ll have to wait until the smoke clears to see how this pans out. In the meantime Samsung isl appealing the ruling have been successful in having the ban partially lifted in many of the participating EU countries effected by the ban. The eventual result of the suit and banishment could be used to influence the status of both tablets here in the US as well.
While Android was circling the wagons to defend against the multiple fronts of attack, another Linux-based OS was attempting to raise from the ashes of the once great Palm. Agreed by many in the tech industry to have the best mobile operating system to compete with the polish of Apples iOS, WebOS was due to make a major comeback, thanks to their acquisition by HP. While it was disappointing for HP to make a paper launch of new WebOS phones and tablets, those that followed the little OS that could were excited and waited anxiously for new products to arrive. First out of the chute was the Veer, HP’s miniature Pre. While the industry was going to bigger handsets, HP went the opposite direction. While many cheered for the smaller form-factor, others balked at it. Those waiting for a larger handset waited to see what the Pre3 was going to offer. Others waited for the highly anticipated Touchpad-HP’s WebOS tablet. While lacking some features that the iPad2 and many Android tablets offered, the Touchpad was still a great product. The lack of a rear facing camera and little in the way of apps made the price tag hard to swallow. In response, HP lowered the price and saw a modest increase in the Touchpad’s sales. To everyone’s surprise, HP declared that the price cut would be permanent. In the meantime, Germans were first in line to start pre-ordering the Pre3. Other countries were waiting for their turn. All of the excitement generated by these new WebOS devices came crashing down when HP pulled the plug on the entire line of devices during their quarterly stock announcement. It was a huge blow to WebOS fans everywhere. Even those not firmly in the WebOS camp felt like they were betrayed by HP and their sudden departure from the old Palm product. On top of that HP indicated that Apple’s iPad was eating their lunch and they may be looking to bail out of the PC business as well. Both announcements lead many to question whether HP had lost it’s way. How could the worlds largest PC maker just simply walk away from their PC business and walk away from a 1 2 billion dollar purchase of Palm in less than two years? Meanwhile Samsung has expressed some interest in buying HP’s PC business if it goes up for sale. Could this be similar to Google/Motorola patent pool purchase? Perhaps Samsung could use some of the patents from HP to defend against claims made by Apple that Samsung copies its products and violates their patents, etc.
While all the major activity was surrounding the mobile industry, three major changes happened in the traditional desktop computing industry. While Microsoft was still riding the Windows 7 wave and hoping to supplant their aging XP platform as the most used OS in the world, both Apple and several GNU/Linux vendors were hard at work on their own improvements. First came the release of two new desktop environments to replace the aging Gnome 2.x desktop on many Linux distros – Canonical’s Unity Desktop and the Gnome Projects own Gnome 3 Desktop.
Canonical tried to get Unity included in upstream Gnome, but were rejected. Now that we see both products in full production, it was apparent the reasons why Unity was rejected. Not that Gnome3 was that much better, but they are very similar to each other and the developers from both groups viewed their product as being better than the other. Developers and end users from both sides lauded their new desktop environments as fresh, clean, modern, and much needed. Not everyone was happy with the changes however. Many users, including the father of Linux, Linus Torvalds, were dismayed that both desktop environments, as well as the more established KDE4 desktop, were a hot mess of eye candy and lacked flexibility. They lamented the days they could customize their desktops to their liking and without the performance hits they were seeing with all of the major desktop environments now available. A similar situation was developing at Apple as well with their newly released OS – OS X 10.7 Lion.
OS X Snow Leopard was really just an over-glorified point release as it fixed mostly under the hood items in Leopard. Lion proved to be more ambitious as Apple sought to include more of the touch functionality they implemented in iOS into OS X. Launchpad was implemented as a new way of seeing all your apps similar to iOS does on the iPhone and iPad. Those familiar with Ubuntu wondered if Canonical would seek to block the use of the name Launchpad since they already had a service called Launchpad used to host new OSS projects. Being a bit more civilized that most, Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical and Ubuntu decided that they were not similar products and they would not seek to block Apple’s use of the name. It is presumed that Apple made a similar deal with Canonical as they did with Cisco with the use of the iOS name. Though there were no fireworks among companies in regards to Lion, end users were not as thrilled by the changes.
While any company is subject to technical issues with new products and updates, Apple has generally pretty good in pushing out a nearly flawless product. This time around reports of performance hits, crashes, and counter-intuitive changes have some Lion users wishing they stayed with Snow Leopard. Others just wished that they could have gotten backup media in the event they had to re-image their machine to Lion again without having to load Snow Leopard first. While there is some small evidence of undocumented features in Lion, I personally am very satisfied with it. As one test developer indicated, to get the most out of Lion you really need a touch interface. Heeding that advice, I picked up a Magic Trackpad. While Lion seemed cool without a multi-touch interface on an aging Macbook, it didn’t really impress that much until I paired my Trackpad. Wow, what a difference it makes! While I’m confident that Apple will address stability issues, the decision to move dashboard to its own space has many people irked–including myself. Perhaps Apple will move that back to an overlay on a future release. We’ll have to see. Without turning the remainder of this post into a review of Lion, let me say that it is a big improvement over Leopard and Snow Leopard in my opinion. I just wonder how many more upgrades will be available for my trusty Macbook before it is left behind. Perhaps the rumor of Apple’s completely new line of devices or their eventual merger of iOS and OS X will prolong my machine’s demise.
The future promises some exciting times and some interesting news to come. How will the mobile world shape up in the coming year? Will we see any more shake ups? Will any forks of Gnome 2.x gain traction to attract enough users and become another option for desktop environments? Will HP completely loose it’s collective mind? Who will be left standing after the dust has settled between Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Android partners? One thing is for sure, it’s been a wild ride this year and there’s lots of time left in 2011. Stay tuned.
This entry was posted on August 24, 2011 by HunterA3. It was filed under Mobile, News, Tech and was tagged with Android, Apple, Google, HTC Corporation, IPad, Mobile operating system, Motorola, Research In Motion.
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