Could every company making Android handsets soon have to pay royalties to Microsoft?
That is the question raised by today's eyebrow raising agreement between Microsoft and HTC which sees the duo agree "a patent agreement that provides broad coverage under Microsoft’s patent portfolio for HTC’s mobile phones running the Android mobile platform. Under the terms of the agreement, Microsoft will receive royalties from HTC."
Frustratingly neither company divulges what patents were being violated, but it does set a worrying precedent. How much is HTC paying? How will Motorola, Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson, Lenovo and Acer all respond, let alone smaller handset makers using Google's open source OS? Will it discourage the manufacture of Android handsets if the patents affect bottom lines? Could Apple's iPhone OS also be liable? What about Symbian? We simply don't have enough information to say with any accuracy.
Whatever the patents, however, if Google continues to evolve Android at the speed it is doing then the appeal is likely to remain. Most recently in yesterday's New York Times, Google VP Andy Rubin confirmed Adobe Flash support will be hard wired into Android 2.2 (codenamed 'Froyo'). Until now only proprietary extensions - as seen in HTC's Sense UI - had enabled this.
Less encouraging though is a trend we've seen from manufacturers to split their high and low-end Android handsets by the platform's version numbers. Cheaper models like the LG 'Optimus' ('GT540' - pictured below) announced this week for a May launch are being restricted to v1.6 while more expensive models are being typically released with v2.x which is far more feature rich.
The whole point of making an open source mobile operating system is firmware updates should be open to all, not used to exploit customers and enforce a device which shouldn't even exist. Tut tut handset makers.
In related news O2 has confirmed to Techradar it has delayed the launch of the HTC Desire until May as it is still completing network tests (*insert sarcastic joke here*). O2 is already the last network to release the Desire, so it really needs to pull its finger out.