Apple’s latest patent spells big trouble for competitors


Apple won a victory against HTC on Monday that could signal the beginning of a long war of attrition between iOS and Android, with Apple chipping away at small, useful features and forcing workarounds that could degrade the Android user experience. On Tuesday, Apple got more ammunition for that fight, as it was awarded a patent in the U.S. (via CBS News) for a method for using apps while on a phone call.

The patent in question, No. 8,082,523, titled “Portable electronic device with graphical user interface supporting application switching,” covers in a fairly broad manner a way in which calls can be relegated to the background on a device such as a smartphone while the user navigates a mobile operating system and interacts with other applications. Basically, it applies to any such method in which the phone application is displaced by a button or visible mechanism to indicate that a call is still in progress and then return the user to the call.

On Apple’s iOS devices, this takes the form of the bar at the top of the home screen you can tap at any time to return to a call while using applications. Android, too, features a similar implementation. The specific wording of the patent, as exemplified by the quoted section below, actually makes it possible Apple could pursue a lawsuit against any device that allows users to maintain a call while also viewing a home screen or app drawer with visual icons representing applications:

[…] displaying on the touch screen display a first user interface for a phone application during a phone call; detecting activation of a menu icon or menu button during the phone call, in response to detecting activation of the menu icon or menu button, replacing the first user interface for the phone application with a menu of application icons including an icon for the phone application and an icon for a non-telephone application; maintaining the phone call while displaying the menu of application icons on the touch screen display […]

Apple may not win any decisive victories against Android competitors that lock out their products entirely, but with an arsenal of patents like this one and the one that led to its ITC win Monday against HTC, both of which could be used in actions against virtually any Android device-maker, it could eat away at Google’s mobile platform, causing the removal or alteration of features that are now second nature to users.

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