Apple-Samsung Showdown Is Really About Google

By | Aug 2, 2012

On the face of it, the Apple-Samsung legal battle, unfolding in several countries, is no great surprise. After all, they are the two largest smartphone makers. But Apple's real target is not so much Samsung as Google, and the battle is not about hardware but mobile operating systems.

And it is, therefore, a battle for control of the mobile ecosystem in which IT departments at midsize firms will need to operate. This is not just about bring-your-own-device (BYOD) within the firm itself. In that arena, IT managers at least have some say in which mobile operating systems the company will support.

But for midsize firms with customer-facing operations, the choice of mobile operating system is out of their hands. Like it or not, they will have to go where their customers are. And Apple wants to keep itself at the top of the heap.

Shadow Play

The Apple-Samsung legal confrontation has become a multifront battle, unfolding in courtrooms from Europe to Australia. But as Jessica Vascellaro reports at, there is another shadowy presence in all of those courtrooms: Google.

Apple contends that Google infringed on Apple patents in developing the Android operating system. Google denies this contention. But Apple has chosen to take on in court not Google itself but its hardware partners. It has not given a reason, but legal analysts say that companies making and profiting from Android devices make better targets.

Google created Android, but licenses it without charge, making most of its money from (unrelated) search ads.

High Stakes

For the companies involved--including third-party Google--the stakes are very high. Apple probably does not expect to own the entire mobile market. Even apart from antitrust issues, its focus is on the consumer high end. But it wants to keep a firm grip there and relegate Android to also-ran status.

Meanwhile, Samsung wants to protect its mobile manufacturing business. And Google wants to protect Android and keep the mobile world from being Apple-dominated.

The stakes are also high for midsize firms and their IT departments. They have little stake in Samsung's hardware but a lot in the Android operating system it runs on. And from the perspective of IT managers at midsize firms, iOS and Android each have a mixture of strengths and weaknesses.

Apple's iOS offers consistency. But the price of that consistency is tight control by Apple. Android is more flexible, but in consequence it has become a sprawl, posing operational and security concerns.

While IT managers at midsize firms have some leverage over BYOD options within the firm, they are at the mercy of the market (and legal system) when it comes to consumer-facing mobile support. IT will thus have to adapt to the mobile ecosystem however it evolves.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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