Poor old Android, stuck in a corner while the big boys play with the best toys and they're left alone with nothing.
If you're to believe this cartoon and some of the articles that inspired it this is the view you'll have - Android complaining because others spent more money on patents and wont let them use the technology of those patents for free. It's hardly surprising that the Droid is dressed as a spoiled brat in this cartoon. But is this the whole picture?
Not really. While on the surface it may seem that the Android camp is complaining about someone doing better than them, the whole story is a little more complex. Android is currently the best-selling mobile operating system in the world, selling more than all forms of iOS and Windows Phone devices added together. We know that and so do Microsoft and Apple. Rather than position their own products more competitively (to be completely fair, Microsoft is doing this next year) they've decided they want a little of the Android pie. They've spent money on patents that are currently used by Android devices, and have started charging Android device manufacturers for things that the original patent holders hadn't bothered with.
All's fair in business and war, yes? Well consider this: Microsoft profits more from Android than it does from Windows Phone 7, despite not having an Android device on the market. Microsoft makes $15 profit per Windows Phone model and $5 profit per HTC Android device (the patents Microsoft sought specifically affect HTC) yet HTC sells so many Android devices that Microsoft is making more money from them than it is from devices running its own operating system. They've become a parasitic entity, feeding off the success of Android while giving nothing new back to the system.
But surely Google could have fought back if they'd wanted to and bought up some of these patents themselves? Perhaps, although the use of patents in the mobile technology space has become so prevalent that I could probably patent "a thingy that does something with a whoosh" and manage to make a profit off it at some point. Put simply, there are so many patents that it's impossible to buy them all and you'll never know which ones are important to buy until someone is using their brief to make money. That's why Apple and Microsoft only bought these particular patents when they saw Android making money from them and attempting to buy them themselves. Caught in a bidding war with two of the richest corporations on the planet (one of which has recently announced it has more spare money than the United States government), despite Google being as big in some ways it simply couldn't compete.
"But", the many detractors of Google in this story call out, "Microsoft gave Google the chance to jointly bid with them for some of these key patents." On the surface that looks like such a good thing on their part, doesn't it? Google and Microsoft chumming around and joining up to buy patents. However this would have essentially translated to Google joining forces with Microsoft against those people who are creating Android devices, unable to protect them from the patent claims of others as they had helped fund the acquisition of those patents themselves. For a company promoting a product as open source, that would have been a truly underhanded way for them to claw some money back.
So where do I stand on this issue? Both Apple and Microsoft have fought hard and spent money to be able to claw in some profit from each Android device sold. At the end of the day that money has been spent by them and, childish and spiteful as their reasoning may be (and in business these things usually are), they have a right to charge Android developers a fair price for access to the technologies that they are using. In the case of Apple who have recently had to settle a case at an estimated eight hundred million dollar loss as well as a share of future profits after infringing long-standing Nokia patents, this has got to be a key strategy in keeping their profit in the mobile space as high as they have become used to with their over-priced and under-featured handsets. Some manufacturers will be affected by this while others wont, although both companies seem to be concentrating their efforts on HTC due to their unprecedented success with Android handsets, and those who are affected will have to pay a little extra for each handset sold. I personally think that this is as fair as business gets, but I'm also aware that the manufacturers wont be the ones truly footing the cost. These extra payments are minimal and may well be absorbed by the manufacturer as their products are already a generally high price, but I doubt that. More than likely we'll see those products rise in price to match the extra charges made against the manufacturers.
At the end of the day three big companies are having a pissing match and trying to get as much money from each other for no effort as possible. These companies have shown themselves to all be worthy of being depicted as spoiled children, with Android wanting something for nothing while Microsoft and Apple only want what the other kids have got. These three may well be stepping into the ring together and attempting to position themselves as the three big mobile ecosystems (when Microsoft and Nokia join together) but the consumer is the only one who will truly suffer in this battle. Each person who tries to take a bite of the Android pie only raises the prices of those devices until they're as expensive as comparative devices from those lesser selling companies.
This can only be bad for the consumer, and that's what really makes me mad about this whole situation.