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Report: Apple nixed Android's multitouch

Google's mobile operating system may lack the sought-after feature because of a request from Apple, according to a VentureBeat report.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
2 min read

One of the chief complaints about Google's Android is its lack of multitouch support.

Did Google CEO and Apple board member Eric Schmidt knuckle under to Apple on multitouch?
Did Google CEO and Apple board member Eric Schmidt knuckle under to Apple on multitouch? Stephen Shankland/CNET News

Now, according to a VentureBeat report by M.G. Siegler, we may have an idea of why Google skipped the feature on its mobile operating system:

Apple, which of course makes the signature multi-touch mobile device, the iPhone, apparently asked Google not to implement it, and Google agreed, an Android team member tells us.

Further, the Android team member went on to say that they were relieved that Google didn't go against Apple's wishes, given the legal storm that appears to be brewing between Apple and Palm, which is using multi-touch technology in its new Pre phone. Even if Apple ultimately decides not to pursue legal action against Palm (it's not yet clear how likely that is, but Apple does have an impressive array of patents), the situation has likely soured the relationship between the two companies. Google, it seems, wants no part in ruining its relationship with Apple.

While this all may sound a bit far-fetched, it's worth noting that last month Apple was awarded a patent titled "Touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics." Patent No. 7,479,949, originally filed in September 2007, covers the multitouch and all its gestures (swipe, pinch, rotation, etc.) that are used on the Apple iPhone.

A day after that patent was awarded, Apple COO Tim Cook warned iPhone competitors they should understand that Apple "will not stand for having our (intellectual property) ripped off, and we'll use whatever weapons that we have at our disposal." Those comments, made during Apple's fiscal first-quarter earnings call, were believed to be intended for Palm even though Cook did not single out any particular company in making his comments.

Siegler goes on to address the Palm connection:

While the connection between Apple and Palm would seem like it should be strong, given how many former Apple employees now work at Palm, Google and Apple are actually more aligned. Not only does Google specially tailor a ton of its products for the iPhone (both with apps like Maps and Google Search, and specially formatted webpages), but its chief executive, Eric Schmidt, is on Apple's board of directors. And don't underestimate the fact that both share a chief rival: Microsoft.

While the open-source Android can be modified to support multitouch with a few well-placed lines of code, one has to wonder why the feature wasn't initially supported and when Google will officially do so.