Apple vs. HTC: It’s About Chrome

Chrome Tablet thumb

You have likely heard about the lawsuit Apple has filed against HTC claiming patent infringement. Kevin offered a good analysis of the suit and how it claims HTC is using Apple technology from the iPhone. Basically Apple doesn’t like what HTC is doing with Android on the phones it is selling in the U.S., as they claim it uses various technology developed in Cupertino for the iPhone. Much has been said that the real target of Apple’s suit is Google Android, as the smartphone OS is growing at a fast clip. I suspect that is true, but I think Apple’s fears go even deeper. I think the scheduled appearance of the Chrome OS later this year has Apple tied up in knots.

Chrome OS is the operating system based on the Chrome browser that has generated a lot of interest from both enthusiasts and companies producing hardware since the Chrome OS announcement. It is intended to be an alternative OS for cheap netbook-like devices, and is aimed squarely at the mainstream consumer. Google expects to capitalize on its familiar brand, and use the Chrome OS to push its online services into the device category.

The Chrome browser is already available on Macs, and getting good reviews from enthusiasts. Apple’s core customer base is already exposed to Chrome, and liking it. Since the Chrome OS is the Chrome browser on steroids, it may appeal to loyal Mac customers, too. That’s a direct threat to Apple.

The impending launch of Chrome OS probably has Apple a bit concerned, but I suspect Google’s desire to see a Chrome OS Tablet hit the market ratchets that concern up to a decent level. A Chrome OS Tablet will compete directly with the Apple iPad, and Apple has a lot riding on the iPad. A Google Tablet would compare feature-wise with the iPad, and possibly surpass it given the full OS nature of Chrome OS. It’s not just the iPhone OS grown up, it will be a full OS built on a real desktop browser. That’s got to cause Apple some discomfort.

So what does Chrome OS have to do with the HTC lawsuit? It is logical that Apple is suing HTC because they are the biggest maker of Android smartphones. HTC is the maker of Google’s own Nexus One. But the real target of the suit is the Android platform, as that is what is the basis of HTC’s features that are allegedly “infringing” on Apple’s patents. Google has already stated that Android and Chrome OS would likely merge in the future to form one platform, one that can run full computers and smartphones. That’s got to tie Apple’s undies in a knot.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

With the iPad, Apple Takes Google to the Mat

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