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The unanswered questions about Jobs, Schmidt and iOS features

I'm in the midst of reading Steven Levy's book about Google, In the Plex, and I was fascinated with the account of Steve Jobs hiding the iPad's development from Google CEO Eric Schmidt while Schmidt was sitting on the Apple board. We noted this striking example of corporate confidentiality last week.

Jobs was reportedly angry with Google for allegedly ripping off iPhone features, like pinch to zoom that eventually wound up in the Android phone.

Eventually, Schmidt stepped down from his position on the Apple board, and the rest is history. Or maybe not.... Our former colleague Nilay Patel, ex of Engadget, says in his personal blog that the story can't be that simple. First, he says Apple didn't have a patent on pinch to zoom until October of 2010. The Android G1 shipped in October 2008, and it didn't have pinch to zoom, but it finally made it to the Google Nexus One in February 2010. Now all Android phones have the feature.

So, says Patel, some questions remain. Did Jobs see pinch to zoom in an early Android build when he visited Google headquarters? Levy says in his book that Jobs did. Did the feature get pulled after Jobs got angry? Levy says yes again. Yet here we are with Android phones with pinch to zoom and other multi-touch features. Other phones have the feature, too.

We can debate whether or not something many feel is basic is even valid to patent, but just last week the US Patent Office granted Apple more multi-touch-related patents. Meanwhile, Apple has a lawsuit pending against Motorola Android phones over multi-touch.

What really happened between Jobs and Schmidt may never be known, and these lawsuits will take a while to sort out. I love a mystery, and Levy's book is a great read if you're interested in Google and tech in general. And of course, I'm reading the book on my iPad.

[hat tip TiPB]

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