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The on-going patent infringement case between Samsung and Apple is full of classic corporate legal drama: two behemoth companies facing off, hordes of attorneys filing tons of paper work to back their claim to mobile dominance, and a feisty judge who asked one lawyer if he was on crack. But all the courtroom episodes aside, it is in fact a very interesting case that could have repercussions in the mobile sphere for years to come. For those few of you who might not know, the case involves Apple suing Samsung for supposedly infringing on Apple’s mobile technology (iPhone, iPad) designs and Samsung counter-suing for Apple supposedly stealing Samsung’s technology. The case most likely will not necessarily make or break either company’s mobile strategy: Samsung is moving ahead full-steam with its $4 billion chip plant in Austin, Texas.
But, it does potentially give the winner a critical leg-up in the overall mobile contest. If Samsung loses, they will have to go back to the drawing board and re-design their Galaxy smartphones and tablets to differentiate themselves from the Apple products. While financially this is negative for Samsung in the short term, with regards to forcing creativity and diversity in smartphone design, it is actually potentially really exciting. Rather than be bombarded with a host of Galaxy devices (maybe they can invent a new product name too…I can’t keep all these Galaxy devices straight), we might see something completely new and different. The old adage, need is the mother of invention, will surely come to bear on the backs of Samsung’s designers and developers and drive them in new directions.
Samsung’s future design challenges and potential inventions aside, what impact could this have on the mobile embedded processor market? On the obvious side, it potentially limits Samsung’s processors from reaching the market due to the court ordered ban on sale of certain Galaxy products in the US. More broadly, it also potentially limits Samsung’s appeal as an ecosystem partner. Unless the company can quickly create or has already created smartphone and tablet designs that are easily distinguished from the iPhone and iPad, its partners may find that Samsung’s products are risky ventures. However, this is probably unlikely since these partners probably need Samsung as much as Samsung needs them. A more interesting angle is whether any delay in Samsung’s products to market might create a window for Intel to enter the mobile consumer market. While it has currently limited its moves to the European and Asian markets, there is no doubt that Intel must eventually enter the American mobile market to make a name for itself. No doubt, part of Intel’s strategy is to work out any issues in overseas markets where media attention is potentially less glaring, then come to market in the US where the big boys continue to play. VDC estimates that these issues with Apple could give Intel about a year or two to attack the US market before Samsung comes back in full force. Not much time really!
For more on mobile technology trends, VDC’s upcoming Track 2, Volume 3: Mobile Processors & SoCs delves into a number of mobile trends across a range of vertical markets, geographies, and processors architectures. This volume will available by August 31st.