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The European Commission is putting money behind its determination to recapture mobile industry leadership for its own companies in the 5G era. A series of R&D initiatives have recently announced their roadmaps, addressing different aspects of future wireless platforms with the help of EC funds and regional expertise. While many are led by the local giants - Ericsson, Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent/Bell Labs - there are leading roles for external partners too, as seen in Samsung's leadership of the mmMagic consortium.
This is co-funded by the EC's 5G PPP program and is focused on developing technologies which can operate in high frequency bands, from 6 GHz right up to 100 GHz. The aim is to gain deeper understanding of what is realistic in using these promising but often untried areas of the spectrum, and to accelerate standardization of millimetre wave systems.
There are many differences of opinion among mobile players over how important millimeter wave bands will be in delivering additional spectrum capacity for 5G. While some bands, notably 60 GHz, are already in commercial use, the behavior of others has hardly been tested, and some CTOs believe the primary focus should be on squeezing more capacity out of the well understood frequencies below 6 GHz.
Samsung, however, has been a major proponent of moving up the spectrum and has already demonstrated experimental networks which deliver very high speeds in bands such as 30 GHz and 60 GHz. In mmMagic, it is joined by most of its main infrastructure rivals - Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei and Nokia - as well as Intel, Orange, Telefonica and Qamcom; test vendors Keysight and Rohde & Schwarz; and academic partners (Fraunhofer HHI, CEA LETI and IMDEA Networks; universities in Aalto, Bristol, Chalmers and Dresden). mmMAGIC is led and coordinated by Samsung. Ericsson acts as technical manager while Intel, Fraunhofer HHI, Nokia, Huawei and Samsung will each lead one of the five technical work packages.
Chang Yeong Kim, head of digital multimedia and communications R&D at Samsung Electronics, said in a statement that new approaches to implementing mobile communications in bands above 6 GHz "are crucial to realize the envisaged 5G services with diverse and challenging requirements".
mmMagic aims to develop new concepts for mobile access in the 6 GHz to 100 GHz range, including new waveforms, frame structures and numerology; and new adaptive and cooperative beamforming and tracking techniques, to address the specific challenges of millimeter wave mobile propagation. The group envisages that the resulting access technology would feed into the overall 5G multi-RAT platform, which many expect to integrate a range of new and LTE air interfaces.
The two-year mmMagic initiative is one of 19 research projects co-funded by the 5G-PPP. Other recently announced examples include Fantastic-5G, Norma, and Metis II.
BY CAROLINE GABRIEL
Around the turn of the year, Samsung was forced to make some bold statements of direction as the harbingers of doom leapt on the declining growth and market share in its most important business, smartphones. It indicated that it would put more funds and focus on other revenue streams, particularly chips and displays, and the former strategy already looks to be having some effect.
The mainstay of Samsung's chip operations is memory, but it also aims to grow its mobile processor and modem activities, and its foundry business. Reports that it will use its own Exynos SoC in more Galaxy S6 models than previously expected (at the expense of Qualcomm) shows the company becoming more self-sufficient, though it also needs to sell the product to more third parties to challenge the leaders, especially if its own smartphone demands fall.
Other reports said that Apple, hard as it has tried to cut its ties to its biggest smartphone rival, is swinging back towards Samsung as the primary manufacturer of its mobile processors. Sources say the latest model, the A9, will mainly be made by Samsung in Korea, and also by its partner GlobalFoundries, a blow to TSMC, which was the main foundry for the A8.
Improving sales of chips and displays are already affecting quarterly figures. According to Samsung's preliminary statement of its first quarter results, those two businesses saw growth, even while the mobile unit continued to contract, leading to an anticipated 30% year-on-year drop in Q1 profits - the sixth quarter of profits reduction in a row (though it was better than analyst estimates). Operating profit for the quarter will be around KRW5.9 trillion ($5.4bn), said Samsung, while revenue should fall by 12% to KRW47 trillion. Full results will be reported at the end of April.
Beneath the depressing headlines, the semiconductor unit will post a profit this year, analysts expect, and in Q1, it is predicted to make sales of 11.1 trillion with operating earnings of KRW2.7 trillion. The display division is expected to report operating profit of KRW450bn, boosted by rising demand for ultra-thin displays for affordable smartphones. The higher end OLED screens are mainly used in Samsung's own high end models.
Operating profit at the consumer electronics division, which includes TVs and appliances, is expected to fall, as are earnings at the mobile unit - likely to post operating income of KRW2.3 trillion on sales of KRW27.1 trillion, according to an analyst poll by Bloomberg. Daewoo Securities said Samsung shipped 81m smartphones in the quarter, up 7% from Q414, and its current quarter should be boosted by the shipment of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge from April 10.
By Caroline Gabriel, Research Director, Maravedis-Rethink
The latest R&D project in 60GHz spectrum comes from Samsung, which can transfer a 1Gbyte movie in three seconds. However, as the speed wars heat up in WiFi, all these data rates are going to need backhaul support, an issue Broadcom and others are seeking to address through new Ethernet standards.
The race to break speed records in WiFi is almost as intense as it is in cellular, and Samsung is a prominent name in both. The Korean firm has been demonstrating ‘5G’ prototypes hitting gigabit speeds, but WiFi can support even higher data rates, and the company says it has achieved up to tenfold increase on current speeds.
In both WiFi and cellular R&D, the key to blistering speeds is usually the combination of techniques such as advanced MIMO, with high frequency spectrum. Samsung says it has developed a version of WiGig (the WiFi-like standard for the 60GHz band) which boosts the current maximum theoretical data rate for a consumer device fivefold – and in terms of real world average speeds, the gap is 10 times.
The prototype system enables a 1Gbyte movie to be transferred in under three seconds and uncompressed high definition video to be streamed in real time. Like other next generation WiFi efforts, Samsung says its technology removes the gap between theoretical and actual speeds, and of course it will hope that its breakthrough will give it an influential position in emerging standards, as well as differentiation for its own future products.
“Samsung has successfully overcome the barriers to the commercialization” of the 60GHz WiFi technology, claimed Kim Chang Yong, head of a Samsung R&D center, in a statement. “New and innovative changes await Samsung’s next generation devices, while new possibilities have been opened up for the future development of WiFi technology.”
Amid rising competition in its heartland smartphone business, Samsung is investing in R&D in many areas which could extend its business model, including software and media platforms, enterprise platforms and cutting edge infrastructure for ‘5G’, which is expected to include technologies derived both from LTE and WiFi. The first products to be targeted with 60GHz WiFi are likely to be audiovisual home and mobile media devices, telecoms infrastructure and medical systems, said Samsung.
Samsung’s rivals are all working on enhancing WiFi for higher speed and better quality of experience in future. For instance, Huawei recently demonstrated 10Gbps connections in conventional 5GHz spectrum.
However, the faster WiFi gets, the more challenging its backhaul issues will be. With that in mind, Broadcom, HP and Cisco are drumming up interest in dramatically speeding up gigabit Ethernet, to keep up with the pace of change in WiFi.
The two giants claim there is a growing need for standard physical layers running at 2.5Gbps and 5Gbps, to fit between the current Gigabit Ethernet standard and the high end 10Gbps platform. The standard would cover ranges of 100 meters over Cat E twisted pair cabling, so that changes to cable infrastructure would not be required as they would for 10Gbps and above.
The main reason is the rapid increase in the speed of WiFi. Enterprise and hotspot WLANs are adopting the latest 802.11ac iteration, and its gigabit speeds are threatening to drown the access points’ wired Ethernet backhaul links.
The two companies are proposing the formation of a study group within the IEEE 802 effort, focused on a Next Generation Enterprise Access Base-T PHY. This will get its first hearing at the IEEE 802 plenary in San Antonio, Texas on November 3-6. The initiators of the would-be study group are Yong Kim, senior technical director at Broadcom, and David Law of Hewlett-Packard, chair of the 802.3 working group, and Cisco has also lent its support.
They say in their invitation: “This is a call for interest to initiate a Study Group to explore the need for one or more new Ethernet speed(s) between 1Gbps and 10Gbps over balanced twisted pair cabling. We believe there is a market need, driven by IEEE 802.11ac wireless access points, to support higher than 1Gbps Ethernet rates at a 100m reach. Higher performance end devices like desktop and laptop PCs, as well as other enterprise applications for Ethernet, will also benefit from the new data rates provided by this work.”
John D'Ambrosia, a Dell fellow and veteran of Ethernet standards efforts, told EETimes there was significant interest and the study group was likely to be approved. "I wouldn't be surprised to see a dual-rate effort come out of this," he commented.
There is also work going on far higher up the Ethernet performance scale, in the area which feeds into Carrier Ethernet and mobile backhaul platforms. A de facto standards alliance was formed in July to look at 25G and 50G Ethernet, but the IEEE quickly responded with its own study group, focused on the same data rates, a few days later. These different efforts highlight the diversity of applications for Ethernet these days, requiring a faster development cycle and a wider variety of speeds. "People have removed the barriers of traditional 10x Ethernet upgrades,” said d’Ambrosia.
Meanwhile, Ethernet PHY specialist Aquantia is getting in early, and in time-honoured fashion seeking to create a technology in advance of an IEEE standards effort, which could then form the basis for that standard. Its new AQrate range supports 2.5G and 5G rates over 100m of Cat E twisted pair cable. The 28nm parts are based on Aquantia's existing 10G Ethernet PHY, which is in production and work in conjunction with FPGAs and IP from Xilinx.
As Korean leader issues shock warning of 24.5% drop in operating profit, HTC turns in 80% leap in net income
Samsung had indicated that this could be a tough quarter amid intensifying smartphone competition, as well as ongoing challenges in its TV business. However, the scale of its forecast operating profit decline - 24.5% down from the year-ago quarter - surprised analysts. This was the third quarter of falling operating income in succession.
Guidance on sales figures remained unchanged from its April estimate - consolidated Q2 sales should be KRW52 trillion ($51.4bn), down from KRW57.5 trillion last year, with operating profit of KRW7.2 trillion ($7.1bn). Samsung blamed the weakness on a strong Korean won - at a six-year high against the dollar - and a decline in smartphone and tablet shipments. In addition, it has incurred additional marketing expense to reduce inventory.
The company added to its comments, saying that profits were being hit by increased competition at the low end, not just from Chinese vendors but from European manufacturers. And it also sees slow growth in the handset market as a whole, though it expects a rebound later in the year.
The telecoms unit, which includes the handsets and generates more than 70% of earnings, is likely to see operating profit of KRW5.1 trillion, down from a record KRW6.7 trillion in Q313, on sales of KRW31 trillion, analysts estimate. Samsung will publish the official results and divisional breakdown later in the month. IBK Securities calculates that the vendor's total smartphone shipments fell to 78m units in Q2, from 87.5m in Q1.
The display unit is also under pressure, and pundits predict it will see a 76% drop in operating profit in Q2, to KRW270bn, although analysts expect some improvement in the consumer electronics business, which includes TVs and home appliances. And the chip division is expected to double its profit to about KRW2.1 trillion.
New products and demand for displays will drive better results in the third quarter, Samsung said in its statement. "Samsung earnings will rebound in the third quarter, largely driven by explosive demand for 4G smartphones in China," Claire Kim, an analyst at Daishin Securities, told Bloomberg. "If Samsung can maintain at least 20% market share in that segment, it will see higher smartphone sales during the quarter when the significant impact from Apple's new devices isn't yet expected."
Such comments indicate the huge importance of China, the world's largest smartphone market, to all vendors, and Q2 is seasonally weak there. But of course, Samsung also faces non-seasonal pressures, such as the increasingly impact of Chinese manufacturers like Lenovo and Xiaomi.
Meanwhile, HTC just beat market estimates with its Q2 results, and delivered one stand-out figure, an 80% year-on-year leap in net profit to NT$2.26bn (US$75.6m), ahead of the NT$2.09bn predicted by analysts. HTC also posted an operating profit of NT$2.43bn after three successive quarters in the red on this front. But revenue fell to NT$65.06bn, only just within the company's guidance range of NT$65bn to NT$70bn.
The profits rise vindicated CFO Chang Chialin's pledge, made in May, that the new flagship smartphone, the HTC One M8, would propel its vendor back to profit in the June quarter. The M8's sales are still rising after its launch in March and CEO Peter Chou said it had achieved "positive customer response". However, the profits improvement is also down to the ongoing cost reduction program as well as major efforts to address the supply chain issues and component shortages that dogged recent HTC launches. Chou said: "We have dramatically improved our operational efficiency and supply chain readiness to ensure immediate availability on the launch day."
Rivals agree to drop cross-appeals against 2013 ITC ruling against Samsung, though no commercial impact
The deal only affects outdated handsets - when it comes to smartphone industry litigation, the courts move far more slowly than the device upgrade cycle - and it may prove to be merely housekeeping rather than a sign of greater truces to come. Or, as some fear, it may be a question of Apple and Samsung dropping irrelevant suits which will have little symbolic or commercial effect, and reloading their weapons for a new IPR battleground, in the internet of things - an area where both are amassing new patents.
The latest ceasefire relates to an ITC judgement that Samsung had infringed two Apple patents related, respectively, to the touchscreen interface and headset plug detection. The original ruling imposed an import ban against guilty products, but in reality, Samsung had already developed workarounds and updated its models. However, it appealed the injunction anyway, indicating how much of these expensive legal battles are about scoring points rather than protecting real revenues. Meanwhile, Apple appealed too, seeking to broaden the scope of the judgement and get even the devices with workarounds barred.
Both those motions have been dropped, and while the injunction is still technically in force, there are no models which are affected by it. It now remains to be seen whether the new climate of compromise extends to other US cases. Some of these are in federal court, including the highest profile cases, held in San Jose under the eye of Judge Lucy Koh. Both firms have consistently used the ITC as a second theatre, and last year
Samsung gained its own ITC import ban over Apple infringement of a standards-essential patent. However, the government vetoed the ruling, claiming concerns that Samsung was abusing its ownership of such patents.
The next hearing in San Jose will take place on July 10, and will address Apple's request for a sales ban on Samsung devices which were found, in the latest round of judgments, to have infringed its IPR. Koh has previously denied such petitions and is unlikely to change her mind this time, but Apple has also filed motions for an amended ruling, a new trial, and larger damages than the $11.6bn it won; while Samsung is challenging the ruling, the validity of the patents and the scale of the damages. The Korean firm is also still appealing rulings from the famous 2012 trial in the same court and last year's retrial over the damages awarded.
It is clear that the San Jose cases will be tougher to settle than the ITC ones, and there has been no progress in that direction despite court-mandated CEO-level talks and repeated pleas from Koh to come to a deal. However, there is rising pressure to make such a deal - partly from the companies' shareholders, concerned at the cost and distraction of lawsuits which deliver no knock-out victories; partly from the ecosystem, which has seen Apple and Google agree to drop all direct litigation against one another.
A Samsung official told Korea Times: "We are trimming down the number of dispute issues. We no longer want to spend time talking about secondary points. Both firms are trying to find common ground."
Another factor pushing Apple to come to a rapprochement will be its reliance on Samsung for key components such as displays. Despite efforts to broaden its supply chain, Apple still accounts for 9% of Samsung's display sales (up from a year earlier) and is said to be very interested in the Korean firm's innovations in AMOLED technology for wearables.
"As technology shifts toward wearable devices, Apple still wants to keep Samsung as its top-tier parts sourcing channel," another official said.
However, while wearables may provide a new area for the companies to work together - as well as compete fiercely on the actual devices - it may also be a new patents battleground. There is a broad feeling that a new IPR system will be required for the fragmented and immature world of the Internet of Things (IoT), but unless international and industry bodies move quickly to create a new framework, there is the risk that old habits will prevail, based around secretive bilateral licensing deals and litigation.
Apple and Samsung are both filing large numbers of patents related to the IoT, though according to Thomson Reuters Intellectual Property & Science, the Korean giant is in the lead in this respect. It surveyed US patent filings in the smart home market, and found that Samsung has filed almost 150 patents related to home automation since 2000, about double the number submitted by second-placed Sony, and it has a further 60 pending for this year. After Sony come LG and Flextronics, while Google comes in at sixteenth and Apple at thirtieth.
Bob Stembridge, senior researcher at Thomson Reuters, told the Wall Street Journal: "It's a clear area of focus for them. It's not just the volume of innovation, it's the quality of innovation." Samsung has become steadily more aggressive about filing patents, in the US and elsewhere, in areas which it regards as strategic. In 2013, it was the top filer in mobile telephony, semiconductors and smart media, and received more US patents than any other company apart from IBM, according to Fairview Research.
Moves into double figures in terms of 2014 tablet launches, with video-optimized Galaxy Tab S devices
The latest additions to Samsung's confusingly broad tablets portfolio comes in two sizes, 10-4-inch and 8.4-inch, and are seen as important devices for the Korean firm, as it tries to increase its 22% share of the tablet space, recorded in the first quarter, and squeeze Apple's 33%. It has high hopes - iPad sales were a low point in the US giant's most recent quarterly results, and its share has slipped from around 40% a year ago.
This is the first time Samsung has deployed SuperAMOLED for larger-screened products rather than smartphones. In other respects, it is matching or bettering iPad specs - the Tab S models are slimmer than the latest iPads, at 6.6mm rather than 7.5mm, and have slightly higher pixel density, at 287ppi for the larger model and 359ppi for the smaller. The iPad Air has 264ppi and the iPad Mini sports 326ppi.
The Tab S also features Samsung's Adaptive Display technology, which changes the screen's saturation and brightness while certain apps are being used, and adjusts white balance on the fly depending on ambient light. The model is heavily geared to video, promising 11 hours of 1080p video playback, an increased color range and HD quality.
The Samsung devices come with 16Gbytes of capacity and WiFi-only. They run Android 4.4 KitKat and the Samsung Exynos 5 Octa CPU with 3Gbytes of RAM. The eight-core processor switches between a 1.9GHz quad-core element, and a lower power 1.3GHz quad-core option, depending on the task, to extend battery life. The products are priced from $500 and $400 respectively.
Device success is about content and storage as well as local specs these days, and Samsung announced a limited-time offer of 50Gbytes of free Box cloud storage plus HD videos from its Netflix partnership.
Samsung has released 11 tablet models so far this year, adopting its habitual scattergun approach and trying to provide a slate for every user profile, rather than relying on just one or two flagship offerings. 2014 has seen the launch of three new Galaxy Tab models (Tab 4), a new Tab 3 Lite, three Tab Pro models, the Galaxy Note Pro, and the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook (in partnership with Barnes & Noble). This does not take account of different storage options and other variations, and in addition, Samsung is still actively selling older devices such as the Note and Tab 3 families.
There will always be debate over whether Samsung confuses the market by having so many variations, as well as increasing its own R&D and marketing burdens - though of course, the opposite criticism is usually levelled at Apple, which despite the Mini and the bifurcated iPhone range, has been slow to design new devices, especially for lower cost markets.X
Handset giant announces mHealth Simband watch and SAMI cloud platform
Most interestingly, this looks like a platform that is completely independent of Samsung's handsets - a strong indicator that this is a serious healthcare endeavor and not a value-add product for existing Samsung phone owners. There has so far been no mention of pairing the Simband, or of the underwhelming and unenthusiastically adopted S Health app that Samsung launched as a selling point of the Galaxy S3 phone in 2012. This is the first major announcement to come out of Samsung's Strategy and Innovation Center; a separate division of the business independent of mobile devices.
It should be noted that this announcement comes in the week before Apple's WWDC event, where it is expected that it will reveal iOS 8 with home control and health functionality. However, there is also no indication whether this will be a consumer-facing product or something sold directly to the healthcare industry - something that might help move Simband out of direct competition with Apple in the retail market. The fact that Samsung is stressing the modular potential of the platform is a strong indicator that this will be geared towards healthcare businesses not consumers.
The metrics that Samsung says it can measure include blood flow, estimated blood pressure, galvanic skin response, heart rate, hydration, respiration, blood glucose concentration, and even surrounding air quality. A Samsung video showed how the ECG of a user could be measured by touching a finger to the watch strap. Samsung also identified other devices and hardware that could be added to the ecosystem to expand its capability, including glasses and sensors for legs, chest, ear and upper arms.
Samsung was keen to stress that it would not be selling the data collected by SAMI. Consumers would hopefully be comfortable with that level of privacy over their health data, but if this is a system to be adopted by healthcare companies, they would need access to the information of all their patients through the cloud APIs, suggesting such a mechanism will be in place. There has so far been no clarification of whether a private user who was to buy a Simband would have to upload their data to SAMI or if the system could be used without the cloud functionality.
The Simband itself will include Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, as well as a wireless charging mechanism that can be used while sleeping, ensuring that the band does not have to be removed to be charged - a criticism levelled at Samsung's Gear and Gear Fit smart watches that were mHealth focused. The charging mechanism suggested by Samsung is a magnetic unit, presumably plugged in during the day and attached to the Simband at night.
Other options could include batteries that harvest energy from movement, light and heat, which would alleviate charging requirements. The Simband currently uses a chipset around half the size of an SD card, which includes an ARM A7 CPU cast in 28nm.
Samsung has partnered with Belgium-based Imec ("a nanoelectronics research center") and the University of California to work on the Simband platform. Beta versions of the hardware, SDK, APIs and cloud infrastructure should be available by the end of the year, according to Samsung chief strategy officer Young Sohn.
Samsung has also established a $50 million fund for its new Digital Health Challenge, available to developers looking to work in mHealth capacities in both hardware and tracking sensors as well as the software side of things and the mathematics required to process the data collected.
Amid reports of negotiations to end all patent battles, the companies dash hopes with new war of words
The auspices seemed good at the start of the week. Apple and Google, the shadowy force behind Samsung's Android defences, agreed to suspend their own IPR hostilities, which though they related to fairly minor patents, was symbolically important. And even better, this coincided with the news that Apple and Samsing were in talks about resolving their differences.
However, hopes faded quickly. The talks were ordered by Judge Lucy Koh, who has presided over most of the key cases between the two firms in Silicon Valley, the most recent ending earlier this month in something of a score-draw. Grudging court-imposed negotiations have happened before between these two antagonists, sometimes at CEO level, with no result. The Korea Times also reported that the companies were engaged in "working level talks" about the possibility of ending all lawsuits, but it was not clear whether these were also court-ordered, or at what level they took place.
And in court filings to report on the 'progress' of the new peace summits, there was little reason to hope for an early deal, but instead a new round in the companies' increasingly colorful war of words. Apple pointed out remarks reportedly made by Samsung lawyer John Quinn after the recent San Jose jury verdict, in which he managed to draw comparisons with two of the US's most bitter recent conflicts. He was quoted as saying the trial was "Apple's Vietnam, and people are sick of it", and followed that up, in an interview with CNET, by calling his rival a "jihadist". That referred back to Apple founder Steve Jobs's famous declaration of "holy war" against Android, and Quinn insisted: "It's kind of hard to talk settlement with a jihadist".
Samsung said the remarks were irrelevant to the outcome and said it supported the ADR (alternative dispute resolution) process ordered by Koh. However, it said Apple was "improper" in requesting that ADR participation would not be used against it in future injunction or royalty cases. Apple said that, without that guarantee, it would be impossible to take part in ADR.
Despite these bad signs, there is strong feeling that the two companies will reach a settlement this year, as the markets and the courts grow weary of their battles; analysts call on them to compete through innovation not litigation; and as neither succeeds in dealing a knock-out blow to the other, as seen in a string of court refusals to grant bans on sales of key products. IPR analyst Florian Mueller recently wrote on his Foss Patents blog that the hostilities should end this summer and "isn't it about time that Apple looked for an exit strategy from a war it apparently can't win?" The same applies to Samsung, though the US firm has usually been the aggressor and so will have the most to lose from a climbdown. However, it may be that, behind the bluster and ill feeling, the companies really are seriously examining a way to end these expensive and distracting battles with minimum loss of face.
Agree to dismiss all ongoing fights between Motorola and Apple, but may just leave the latter free to turn all its fire on Samsung
Apple and Google have announced a patents truce, which will have little direct effect on the smartphone industry, but is being taken as a symbolic step on the way to ending the IPR wars of the past two years.
Various factors have raised hopes of an end to the hostilities which have distracted handset makers and wasted large sums of money on lawyers rather than R&D. Judges and shareholders have grown impatient of suits which seemed to be more about clipping rivals' wings than defending inventions; major players have increasingly been signing cross-licensing deals, as seen in Samsung's reconciliation with Ericsson; the jury in the latest round of Samsung/Apple litigation in San Jose called on Apple to go after Google directly if it really believes it has a case against Android.
The latest development suggests that Apple will not take that advice, and is feeling the pressure to be more conciliatory towards rivals using Google's Android platform. It has settled a long-standing patents quarrel with its erstwhile friend and the two firms will now cooperate in some areas of patent reform.
The lawsuits date back to October 2010 and were originally filed against Motorola Mobility, which became a subsidiary of Google but is now being sold on to Lenovo (minus many of the patents for which it was acquired). Apple and Google jointly informed a federal appeals court that the cases should be dismissed, though they have not yet agreed a cross-licensing deal, so there could be further disputes ahead - the dismissal notice still leaves the door open for future suits based on the same patents.
"Apple and Google have agreed to dismiss all the current lawsuits that exist directly between the two companies," they said in a joint statement. "Apple and Google have also agreed to work together in some areas of patent reform. The agreement does not include a cross-license."
The patents at issue still feature in some of Apple's actions against Samsung, so the big question now is whether the iDevice maker can come to a similar pact with its biggest handset rival.
Although the patents are quite minor, and there are many other Apple/Android lawsuits continuing, the pact does indicate a declining appetite for the courtroom on Apple's part, and a willingness to work on reform of IPR law and processes, issues which are exercising regulatory bodies in the US and Europe.
However, some analysts think Apple is merely clearing minor fights with less important competitors off its books in order to focus its energies and resources on the more important Samsung fight. "It's largely symbolic," Michael Risch, a law professor at Villanova University, told Bloomberg. "Motorola isn't as big of a competitor any more".
Apple may also be ensuring it does not have to take on Google directly. Both companies have steered clear of a patents head-to-head over Android, except where the search giant inherited cases with its Motorola purchase, even though Google is involved indirectly because it has backed Android partners such as Samsung and HTC with advice, lobbying power and funds - and Apple has been behind complaints to the European Union about Motorola and Google.