Apple asked Google not to use multi-touch in Android

Tue, Feb 10, 2009

Analysis, Featured, News

Citing a developer who supposedly worked on Android, VentureBeat is reporting that Apple asked Google not to implement multi-touch technology in its Android mobile OS, and that Google, obviously, complied.

The implementation of multi-touch on the iPhone gives it a key advantage over competing phones such as the G1 and the BlackBerry Storm, and it raises the question of why Google, which has devoted a lot of resources towards the development and subsequent release of Android, decided to comply with Apple’s request.

Were they afraid of legal action?  Interestingly, with all of the recent hoopla regarding the Palm Pre’s implementation of multi-touch, and whether or not Apple will take legal action against Palm because of it,  Google is reportedly glad that they decided to stay on the sidelines.  For one thing, they avoid the potential for costly and lengthy patent litigation with Apple.  Second, and arguably more important, is the fact that Google and Apple have a strong and mutually beneficial working relationship that both sides have an interest in maintaining.

Hindsight, though, is 20-20, and it’s extremely interesting that Apple took the pro-active step to ask Google point blank not to implement multi-touch.  Does this imply that perhaps Apple knew it couldn’t legally prevent Google from implementing the feature, and so it instead decided to play nice and ask them for a favor instead?  There’s no way to tell, but favors aren’t typically granted in Silicon Valley for no reason.  Moreover, it’s doubtful that Google, of all companies, would actively take steps to create a mobile OS with stunted functionality simply because Apple asked them to.  It makes one wonder what Google possibly had to gain by heeding Apple’s request.

For all we know, though, Apple’s friendly request was more along the lines of a friendly warning, and that the threat of legal action by Apple was truly at the heart of Google’s decision to leave multi-touch out of Android.  In any event, recent hacks to the G1 have shown that the device is more than capable of handling multi-touch functionality, and with the Palm Pre set to launch in a few months, the iPhone wont be the only multi-touch smartphone out on the market for much longer.

Update: John Gruber of DaringFireball published a post today that sheds some more light on the above story:

This jibes with a story I heard several months ago from a source who works at Apple, which is that Google showed Apple legal a pre-release prototype of the HTC G1, specifically to avoid patent-related disputes.

Even more interesting, though, is Gruber’s description of just how bitter the relationship between Apple and Palm is becoming, with Palm supposedly taking steps to actively lure engineers away from Apple.

What I heard last month at Macworld Expo is that Palm has a standing offer for engineers at Apple to jump ship, with a starting salary of 1.5 times their current Apple salary.

Wow.  Things certainly are getting soap opera-esque in Silicon Valley.  I wonder what’s next.. Mark Papermaster jumping ship to join Palm?!


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17 Comments For This Post

  1. Chase Says:

    The iPhone isn’t the only multi-touch phone out on the market right now anyways. The Blackberry Storm has multi-touch you donkey.

  2. awggie Says:

    seems like you hit it on the head… this way they can let palm pay for the legal battle and see how the cookies crumble.

  3. SubZer0 Says:

    “Google and Apple have a strong and mutually beneficial working relationship that both sides have an interest in maintaining”

    Are you talking about Google Maps? Cause so far that’s the only thing that came out of the “strong and mutually beneficial working relationship”

  4. beeman Says:

    One of the few features that Android really misses compared to the iPhone…

  5. Steve Says:

    First, I’d like to say that the G1 without multi-touch is hardly crippled. As cool as multi-touch actually is, it’s not that big of a deal on this particular device.

    There are lots of devices coming that are going to implement multi-touch. The idea that Apple might be able to patent the idea is absurd. They might get the rights to their particular way of using multi-touch but that’s like trying to patent the way someone holds a fork when they eat.

  6. Brenden Says:

    They kindly asked them…with a very lucrative bribe.

  7. madscientist Says:

    My G1 has multi-touch! Get root and yours can too.

  8. Jason Says:

    “Does this imply that perhaps Apple knew it couldn’t legally prevent Google from implementing the feature”….. I don’t think so. I think it makes sense to give a friend warning and try to prevent a damaging and costly court proceeding.

  9. Shadus Says:

    @Steve- There have been far more ignorant patents granted.

  10. Matt Says:

    I think patenting technology such as this is stupid? If every company could play this way like apple does, the first phone with a touch screen should have patented all touch screen use, the first phone with a camera should have been patented…etc etc…if Apple does sue Palm over using multi touch, then I suggest Palm since they have some sort of “Wireless charging” or something patent that and screw over every company…that way we can’t advanced more in technology because only one company can work on a certain technology and such…

  11. Anonymous Says:

    G1’s are open source, you can have any feature that you can dream up including multi-touch, which is already out hahah!!!!!

  12. patrick Says:

    It’s because of Apple’s recently applied patents over the technology, although I think google, with it’s massive database and resources, can find prior art on it.

    That being said, multi-touch is in the Android OS, it’s just disabled. The JFS release based on firmware 1.1 unlocks it. I’m currently using multitouch on my G1/ADP1, as well as auto-rotate (which may be the next patent battle).

  13. MSL Says:

    I think Apple should allow Google to use some multi-touch tech but not as brazen as Palm’s copycat attitude. Google and Apple work well together and should allow some cross-breeding or simply license the patents!

    I may like Palm as a company and may like the Pre but totally disagree that they are trying to pirate obvious Apple technology and even the physical appearance of the darn phone. No originality and then having a sassy attitude about it is pretty lame. then to tempt Apple employees is just raunchy and low class.

    They are as bad as Microsoft with Vista and now Windows 7 that seriously duplicates everything that Apple OS-X has invented and then claim to invent it themselves. Sad.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    If Android phones don’t allow multitouch by default, might as well just terminate all the android development.

    Most people would want a phone with fully functional features and not have to do all the work themselves when they take the phone home.

  15. C. Enrique Ortiz Says:

    Apple didn’t invent multi-touch. There is prior art. It is everywhere. See PerceptivePixel who has done lots of the initial work, before iPhone. Multi-touch is not an Apple innovation.


  16. tp Says:

    Lots of Japanese handsets have multi-touch. The latest round of DoCoMo branded releases (Jan 09) has several including the N-01A (NEC). Demo here (click “Special Contents” then “Touch UI”):

  17. Katana Says:

    i’ve used multi touch maybe 3 or 4 times aside from the times i was showing someone how cool it was

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