Good news, bad news cycle for Android continues

Sales skyrocket, lawsuits drag mobile OS down

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An artist asked the gallery owner if there had been any interest in his paintings on display at that time.

"I have good news and bad news," the owner replied. "The good news is that a gentleman inquired about your work and wondered if it would appreciate in value after your death. When I told him it would, he bought all 15 of your paintings."

"That's wonderful!" the artist exclaimed. "What's the bad news?"

"The man was your doctor."*

That pretty much sums the score for the Android operating system, which has seen a steady and steep increase in smartphone and tablet sales, all the while getting hammered by lawsuits either aimed directly at Android creator Google or indirectly at Android device manufacturers such as Samsung and HTC.

So here's the good news: yesterday, mobile market analyst Canalys reported that after tracking smartphone sales in 56 countries, the sale of 51.9 million Android smartphones in the second quarter of 2011 put Android devices at a global market share of 48 percent. The second-quarter sales represents a year-over-year increase of 379 percent for Android devices.

It may be interesting to note that Apple on its own sold 20.3 million iPhones in the same period, claiming the number-two spot with 19 percent of global market share, which puts it at the number one single-vendor spot, beating Nokia out for the best sole smartphone vendor in the quarter.

Meanwhile, Windows Phone 7 devices sold less than 1.5 million devices, garnering one percent of the market share.

Looking at these numbers, it's hard not to be impressed with Android's continued performance in the smartphone market. It's also not hard to figure out why Android is the target of so many lawsuits; lawsuits that are not going too well right now.

In the big-magillah case of Oracle v. Google, where Oracle is suing Google for violating Java copyright when Google created a Java-like virtual machine called Dalvik to run inside Android, Oracle just won a motion to keep a potentially very damaging (for Google) e-mail in evidence.

"'What we've actually been asked to do by Larry and Sergey is to investigate what technology alternatives exist to Java for Android and Chrome,' Google engineer Tim Lindholm wrote in the Aug. 2010 e-mail, in reference to Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. 'We've been over a hundred of these and think they all suck. We conclude that we need to negotiate a license for Java.'"

Which, history reveals, is exactly what Google decided not to do.

There is, or course, a lot more to the Oracle v. Google case than can be summed up in a single e-mail. But clearly Judge Alsup is taking each side's considerations very seriously and isn't cutting anyone any slack.

At the same time, Android tablet manufacturer Samsung found itself agreeing to halt sales of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Australia, while a patent lawsuit Apple has leveled against Samsung in that country is resolved. According to Bloomberg:

"Samsung... agreed to stop advertising the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Australia and not to sell the device until it wins court approval or the lawsuit is resolved, according to an accord reached by lawyers during a break in the hearing. Should Apple lose its patent infringement lawsuit, it agreed to pay Samsung damages, which weren't specified."

The Australian lawsuit initiated by Apple contend that the Samsung device infringes 10 Apple-owned patents.

Update: Samsung has since revised its response, indicating that since the injunction is for the Galaxy device to be sold in the U.S., they will still sell the Galaxy Tab in Australia, albeit a slightly different model.

This is, frustratingly, the kind of news Android is going to get for some time to come: big successes in the market place, with lots of ups and downs on the legal end of the business. It's a good thing Google can afford all these lawyers, even if other, smaller, software vendors can't.

But hey, what's the loss of innovation compared with making sure the big patent holders get their danegeld, right?

* (With thanks to Resources for Attorneys, since I can't remember jokes to save my life.)

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