Apple 2.0

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Samsung's Australian setback: A peek at Android's future?

August 2, 2011: 7:41 AM ET

Its settlement with Apple does not bode well for devices that "slavishly" copy the iPad

Galaxy Tab 10.1. Look familiar?

If all had gone according to plan, Samsung would have launched its latest tablet computer -- the Galaxy Tab 10.1 -- in Australia on Thursday Aug. 11.

But Apple (AAPL) objected, telling a federal judge in Sydney that the device, based on Google's (GOOG) Android operating system, violated at least 10 Apple patents. And in a deal cut outside the court, Samsung agreed to postpone the launch until the patent suit is resolved.

Four months after Apple accused Samsung of "slavishly" copying its technology, Apple has, for the first time, preventing an Android device from coming to market.

Could it be a sign of things to come?

Perhaps, although even Android supporters had concerns about this particular Android device. "I tend to take Apple's side on this," wrote Buzz Moody on Ausdroid, a pro-Android blog. "I have a Galaxy Tab 10.1 and it's a tad too similar."

On Tuesday, Samsung issued a statement to the effect that the device in question was a U.S. version that it never intended to sell in Australia.

"This undertaking does not affect any other Samsung smartphone or tablet available in the Australian market or other countries. Samsung will continue to actively defend and protect our intellectual property to ensure our continued innovation and growth in the mobile communication business."

This is "pretty weak," wrote FOSS Patents' Florian Mueller in his analysis of the settlement. "If Samsung believed that the U.S. version of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 doesn't infringe any of Apple's rights, it would have defended itself as a matter of principle."

Although Samsung's Android phones have sold briskly, it's not clear how committed it is to the tablet business. Several commentators have noted Samsung's new policy of not releasing sales figures for either its tablets or its smartphones. Daring Fireball's John Gruber dug out Steve Jobs' comment about Amazon (AMZN), which for many years declined to issue Kindle sales numbers. "Usually, if they sell a lot of something," Jobs told the New York Times two years ago, "you want to tell everybody."

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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