Apple's sweeping legal victory over Samsung in the patent trial that ended Friday raised the possibility of collateral damage for Google's Android operating system. Samsung, after all, is the biggest manufacturer of Android-based devices. How much the $1 billion verdict against Samsung will really affect Android's rapid growth and dominant market position isn't yet clear.
JP Morgan analyst Doug Anmuth in a research note today called the verdict a “negative” for the Android ecosystem because it increases pressure on handset makers to clearly differentiate devices and indicates stricter enforcement of software and design patents in the future.
Other analysts have taken a less dire view of the trial outcome.
Ben Schachter of Macquarie Equities Research, for instance, suggested the outcome will force Google to quickly come up with a “workaround” solution and won't significantly affect Android's long-term consumer appeal. Google is trying to steer clear of the fallout, stating that patents in dispute in the case “don't relate to the core Android operating system.”
Even if the verdict were to throttle Android's growth, it still has a sizable cushion in its lead over Apple's iOS platform. Android devices, for example, represented 68% of smartphones shipped in the second quarter worldwide, compared to 17% for Apple, according to IDC data. New research from mobile advertising and analytics firm Flurry today, however, underscores just how dominant both platforms have become in recent years.
The companies estimates that 640 million iOS and Android devices globally were in use in July. But the fastest growth lately has been in markets outside the U.S., not directly affected by the decision in the Apple-Samsung case. At the top of that list is China, where iOS and Android penetration increased 401% in the last year, followed by Chile (279%), Brazil (220%), Argentina (220%) and Iran (196%).
The Flurry data also shows app use has become more evenly distributed around the world. More than half of app sessions on iOS and Android devices a year ago took place in the U.S. That percentage this year has declined to 36% as the number of app sessions in the rest of the top 10 countries (ranked by app use) has grown from 27% to 36%, and in the rest of the world has climbed from 21% to 28%.
The legal war between Samsung and Apple is hardly over.
Besides appealing Friday's verdict, the South Korean electronics giant is involved in several other cases against Apple worldwide. Still, Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, doesn't expect the verdict to have a major impact on Samsung sales in the U.S., in part, because it doesn't affect newer devices like the Galaxy S III.
He also projects the outcome will lead other phone manufacturers to settle separate patent litigation with Apple, without hamstringing Android. “We continue to be confident in our 4-year outlook on mobile device share, which assumes that iOS and Android further dominate the smartphone market with likely close to 85% share combined by 2015,” he wrote in a research note.