Roger Cheng/Miraj Sheth
A legal assault by Apple Inc. hasn't cooled any of the fervor among makers of mobile phones for Google Inc.'s Android operating system.
In early March, Apple filed a pair of patent-infringement lawsuits against HTC Corp., maker of Google's Nexus One phone. The move was seen by industry observers as an attack by proxy on Android, which powers touchscreen smart phones with many of the same features as Apple's
Executives from handset makers gathering this week in Las Vegas for an industry conference, however, uniformly said they are proceeding with plans to develop new Android-based phones. In fact, the two highest-profile phones announced at the conference this week--Sprint Nextel Corp.'s
fourth-generation Evo, made by HTC, and Samsung Electronic Co.'s Galaxy S--both run on the Google operating system.
HTC, in the crosshairs of Apple's legal attack, remains as committed to Android as it was when it started rolling out phones based on the operating system, Chief Executive Petter Chou said. "Nothing has changed," Mr. Chou said. "We're confident in our position."
Then legal dispute is only in its early stages, and HTC is still figuring out how it plans to defend itself, Mr. Chou said. He declined to provided more specifics, citing ongoing legal proceedings, but said HTC's relationship with Google remains strong and that he expects the search giant to support
Apple's suits alleged violations of 20 patents, including elements of is innovative touch screen and other functions that govern the way phones operate. As such, it was seen as having a broader target than just HTC. Friction between Apple and Google has mounted with the search giant's
move into mobile-phone technology.
Google sees mobile phones as a key venue for Web surfing that it doesn't want locked up by rivals. Apple, meanwhile, has seen much of its growth fueled by the iPhone.
Makers of mobile phones risk getting caught in the middle. While Apple jealously guards its hardware and software, Google lets handset makers freely use and modify Android.
Sony Ericsson, which like HTC makes Android-based phones, isn't backing down from plans to develop more phones using the Google operating system. "It hasn't given us any reason to change our strategy," said Steve Walker, vice president of the manufacturer's handset portfolio.
LG Electronics Inc., another makers of Android phones, said it is following the Apple-HTC legal developments closely, but said it is too early in the process to change business plans as a result. "At his stage, it's not affecting our business," said Ehtisham Rabbani, vice president of marketing a product strategy. Making changes at this stage, he said would be "premature."
Google's announcement earlier this week that it has stopped censoring search results in China also had the potential to rattle device makers who have embraced the Android platform.
Instead, they are working their way around the problem. For instance, HTC's Mr. Chou said, Android-based devices in China may need to default to a search engine other than Google's.
Some analysts have argued that Google's woes could be an opportunity for competitors like Microsoft Corp. to win back market share for mobile-phone operating systems. But the momentum doesn't appear to be swinging in Microsoft's favor. "We're not putting too many chips on that one," says Roberts Dotson, CEO of T-Mobile USA, the country's fourth-largest wireless-network operator.
Analysts and lawyers don't expect Apple's suits to have much of an effect on an industry where such legal battles are part of the ordinary course of business. "Intellectual-property battles are par for the course in the wireless industry," said Daniel Hays, who works for consulting firm PRTM.
HTC, for its part, hints its own record of innovations will be part of the company's defense against Apple.
Mr. Chou notes HTC had been making smart phones long before Apple and its iPhone came along. "We think HTC is an innovator in the industry," he said.