Motorola Droid lacks multitouch – Is Google afraid of a lawsuit from Apple?

Tue, Nov 3, 2009

Legal, News

The upcoming Motorola Droid is the latest darling of the tech blogosphere, and there’s no denying that its specs, and in particular its gorgeous 3.7-inch screen, are objectively impressive.  But lost in the mix of all Droid discussions is the fact that the Droid isn’t multi-touch enabled and doesn’t offer users the ability to pinch to zoom, even though the OS it’s running, Android 2.0, fully supports such functionality.

So what gives?  Why would such a useful feature be left off the table?

John Gruber suspects that it may be to avoid any potential legal battle with Apple.

There is no pinching on a Droid running Android 2.0. As for why, my somewhat-informed best guess is that it is related to Apple’s patent applications for the pinch-to-zoom gesture. If so, this stinks.

It’s not like no one else has implemented pinch-to-zoom, though: Palm uses it in WebOS, pretty much just like in the iPhone OS. It’s such an unbelievably useful, convenient, obvious, natural gesture, it’s hard for me to imagine using a handheld device without it.

Gruber goes on to point out that a demo videoof the Motorola Milestone, “the GSM version of the Droid which will purportedly go on sale in Europe later this month”, showcases rudimentary pinch to zoom functionality.  Gruber writes:

My sources suggest that this is a Motorola customization, not code from Google. (Likewise for multi-touch gestures supported by HTC Android phones.)

So it would appear that Palm is willing to risk a lawsuit with Apple over this, and Google is not. The situation certainly brings to mind a gesture of some sort.

And so the plot thickens.  Palm’s patent portfolio vis a vis multitouch technology is undoubtedly more extensive than Google’s, if the latter even has much to show at all, and it’s very possible that Google has a lot more to fear from stepping on Apple’s toes than Palm does.  We should also point out, though, that Apple reportedly asked Google not to implement multi-touch technology in the first generation of its Android OS, a request which Google complied with.

At the time, we wrote:

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.

With Droid being positioned as the guest of honor at Android’s coming out party, it certainly seems that there’s something fishy here going on behind the scenes, and we’re inclined to believe that the threat of legal action is, in fact, impeding Google from a full out assault on the iPhone.


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