Apple goes after Android

Rather than take on Google directly, Apple has sued HTC, the manufacturer which makes most of the handsets currently running the Android operating system. But to the detached observer, it’s clear what the real target is. Here’s GMSV’s take on it:

Although not named in Apple’s suits accusing HTC of multiple violations of iPhone-related patents, Google made a point Tuesday of publicly declaring its support for the company that makes many of the most popular Android-based smartphones, including the Google-branded Nexus One. “We are not a party to this lawsuit,” a spokesman told TechCrunch. “However, we stand behind our Android operating system and the partners who have helped us to develop it.” Unless Google can come up with a reason to turn loose its own legal hounds in a counterattack against Apple, however, that support, whatever form it takes, will be coming from the sidelines. In an effort clearly aimed at halting the Android advance, Apple avoided tangling with the search sovereign mano a mano and instead hit the HTC flank, opening the possibility of winning a U.S. International Trade Commission injunction sealing the border against any HTC phones found to be infringing.

Judging by HTC’s latest statement regarding the action, it may already have gotten some advice from Google on framing its position in the court of public opinion. In advising stockholders that it doesn’t expect the Apple suits to have any short-term material impact or affect Q1 guidance, HTC flew the freedom-of-choice banner, saying, “HTC believes that consumer choice is a key component to success in the smartphone industry and this is best achieved through multiple suppliers providing a variety of mobile experiences. HTC has focused on offering its customers a uniquely-HTC experience through HTC Sense and its broad portfolio of smartphones.”

Where things go from here is anyone’s guess — ITC action, countersuits and amended complaints, out of court settlement, royalties, IP sharing, full review of the patents themselves. But as a first-strike FUD missile, Apple’s litigation seems to be doing its job right now.

What it suggests to me is that Android is beginning to bite, in the sense that Apple thinks it may turn out to pose a strategic threat to the iPhone/iPad market.