Apple's Siri Helps Take Down a Google Nexus

Say what you will about Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) Siri voice assistant not being up to snuff relative to Apple's marketing, and no one will argue with you -- not even CEO Tim Cook or co-founder Steve Wozniak.

While at All Things D's D10 conference in May, Cook conceded that the service needed improvement. And Woz has been quite vocal of his disappointment with it in favor of using his Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Android devices. There's one thing it decidedly is useful for, though: helping to block sales of Android's current flagship smartphone, Samsung's Galaxy Nexus.

Stop, or my mom will shoot!
Back in February, the iPhone maker filed for a preliminary injunction that would halt sales of the device. The attack differed from most of Apple's recent offensives, which have primarily targeted hardware partners like Samsung, HTC, and Motorola. This time around, Apple is going straight after the actual software found in Android, which features certain functions that it alleges infringe on its patents.

There are four patents in question, with three of them being granted late last year, including its characteristic slide-to-unlock feature, providing word suggestions on touchscreen keyboards, and, most importantly, searching numerous information sources within a unified interface. This last one is particularly important, as it largely describes what Siri does and also played an important role in the injunction request.

A twofer
Last week, District Judge Lucy Koh, who has been presiding over Apple's and Samsung's ongoing frenemy match, granted Apple's request for a preliminary injunction on domestic sales of the Galaxy Nexus, as soon as Apple posted a $96 million bond. Apple subsequently scrounged around in its pockets for some change and gladly complied.

Koh concludes that Siri's patented unified search functions are a key selling point that helps drive demand for the iPhone 4S, and the implementation of a similar function in the Galaxy Nexus may help it steal market share.

Just a few days prior, Koh also granted an injunction against Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1, much as German courts did last year. Samsung then slightly redesigned the casing to avoid the ban, so it's possible the company will try to bring this mildly different Galaxy Tab 10.1N stateside. Either way, this tablet is an aged device that isn't nearly as important as the current Android flagship smartphone.

Telling Google to search less
Importantly, this unified search capability is one of Android's most prominent features, accessible directly from the quick-search bar right on the home screen. Google and Samsung are already preparing to roll out a software update to circumvent the ban by removing the infringing feature, which will be done by limiting that search bar to Web queries.

As searching is one of Android's best features, this is quite a blow, especially since the operating system is built by a search giant. Google is being forced to strip down one of Android's core features to accommodate the injunction.

What remains to be seen is how the next major version, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, may be affected, considering one of its primary selling points will be Google Now, which appears to have unified search capabilities. Google says it's safe and that the suit targets the Galaxy Nexus specifically, but don't be surprised if Apple soon targets newer Android devices. At that point, it will be up to the courts to decide.

Cease the cease-fire
Following the decision, Google has removed the Galaxy Nexus for sale from its Google Play store but has said it will begin shipping again next week after being updated to 4.1 Jelly Bean. A keyword to note in all of this is "preliminary," as this ban is far from a permanent, finalized affair.

The decision will naturally be followed by your standard fare of appeals and subsequent motions. And we thought Apple and Samsung might have been trying to work out a truce.

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Fool contributor Evan Niu owns shares of Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out his holdings and a short bio. The Fool owns shares of Google and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google and Apple and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.


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