Regarding Apple Multi-touch Patents, iPhone, Verizon Droid, and Palm Pre


Verizon and Motorola's upcoming Droid handset is getting a lot of press, here, there, everywhere, and one of the negative points that's come up -- in relation to the iPhone -- is the Droid's lack of multi-touch gestures like pinch-to-zoom. (TiPb mentioned it a couple days ago as well).

Some might complain about Verizon nickel-and-diming users by charging an extra $15/month for Exchange support, or that given Verizon's CDMA technology the Droid can't multitask a phone call and a data connection (so if, for example, you're using the new Google Maps Navigator and a need to talk on the phone at the same time, you're only as good as your last cache). Others are honing in on the Android app space limitations, or just the limited apps (NSFW). But what makes multi-touch so intriguing is that it's a bit of a mystery as to why the Droid doesn't support it. Of course, the G1 didn't support it either, but Android 2.0 is supposed to contain the API's to do it, and the non-Verizon (GSM, for sale outside the US) version -- called the Motorola Milestone seems to do it, if not smoothly (yet?).

Apple's massive multi-touch patent portfolio is cited as a reason, both now for the Droid and then for the T-Mobile G1. Either Google, while CEO Eric Schmidt was still on the board, agreed not to violate them, or fears litigating them. So, they build in the functionality and let 3rd parties take advantage -- and the risk that goes with it -- if they so choose.

But why then does the Palm Pre have multi-touch gesture support on Sprint in the US? Wouldn't the same patents apply? Sure. However, patents are like nukes. They can be deadly unless the guy you're pointing yours at is pointing equally deadly ones back at you. As both TiPb and have posted for a while -- and Palm has explicitly stated -- Palm has a heckuva mobile patent arsenal.

Blustering about lawsuits aside, Apple suing Palm (or vice versa) brings mutually assured patent destruction down on the both of them. While Apple is arguably filthy rich and Palm pauper poor, they might not want the expense or the hassle given Palm's current market position. Verizon and Google, however, is another matter, especially since Google has been in the mobile space nowhere near as long as Palm, and likely doesn't have the same type of core mobile patent portfolio in their pocket to assure the same type of stalemate.

At the end of the day, only the top executives (and their lawyers) at Apple, Google, and Palm know for sure, but that's our guess.

It's a shame, of course, because the iPhone's multi-touch gestures are natural to the point where they should arguably be ubiquitous for capacitive touch screen devices. Apple settled "look and feel" lawsuits with Microsoft over the windows/mouse/pointer interface over a decade ago. They likely consider multi-touch a similar competitive advantages, however, and Steve Jobs said as much at Macworld 2007 when he introduced Apple's implementation of it:

"And boy, have we patented it."

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Regarding Apple Multi-touch Patents, iPhone, Verizon Droid, and Palm Pre


First . . . These multi touch patents seem shady to me. Reminds back in the day I believe it was some British company tried to patent the hyperlink. That didn't fly and neither will Apple if they say things like pinch to zoom.

U.S Patent laws that allow the dumbest shit to be patent.
only reason droid or any other os dont have multi touch.
the interesting question would be, windows mobile platform if microsoft renamed it to surface, since microsoft does also own touch patents for its surface device.
round ball cell phones inc next?

Umm, is this an editorial, or has this been confirmed?
The HTC Hero has pinch to zoom too. Either way, I'm sure you can easily download and add the feature within a few weeks of release, whether officially or 3rd party.

Okay there's a few mistakes that need to be cleared here. Verizon pop email data plan is $30. Another corporate provision server is $45 since it costs more to maintain, i.e. banks, microsoft exchange servers, etc. When SMARTPHONES came out, long before the iphone, they we're all the same cost period. At&t does the exact same thing for corporate accounts.
2. Multi gesturing. The motorola droid in other country's will have multi gesturing. The HTC android PASSION will have multi gesturing, or pinching, or whatever you guys call it, just like the palm pre, etc. This was likely implemented on motora's part, but could be Verizon's as well?

  1. Just like in the summer of 2004 the iphone 4g will have MULTIgesturing....... ha ha. Guess who will have that?

Is this a article about multitouch or just another opportunity for Rene to take shots at Verizon and Android. Stop whining and put Steve's pacifier back in your mouth.

multitouch is NOT the same thing as multi-touch gestures. For crying out loud people, stop using them interchangeably. Apple's patents on the gestures are not on the gestures THEMSELVES. They are on the gestures WITH the HW specs they state. Go look at the US patents site for the Apple and FingerWorks patents. They are not SOLELY gestures.

How about doing some homework on WHO has the rights and owns the multitouch patent? Ironically, guess who's name comes up?
You guessed right!
The CEO of Palm Pre, Jon Rubenstein!
Lookup Patent Number: 345173000.
This may just explain a lot of things you've always wondered about!

Fact is no one else came up with intuitive interfaces using capacitive touch screens until the iPhone platform. Before that, all the rage was styluses on resistive screens, trackballs and roller-dials on Blackberries, etc.
Come to think of it, everyone in mobile before iPhone had their own gimmick to interface with a powerful mobile device (including the iPod roto-dial). Apple cooked up (so far) the best one, and patented it. Everyone else is trying to ape it in one way or another now. But the iPhone "edge" with multi-touch (in the 350 page patent, Apple calls a lot of it "heuristics") is in the patent and I think thats fair, they invented the frick'in thing.