Will Patent Feuds Scuttle Android Developers?

Recently, the technology press has been aflutter with coverage of Google’s newly released Android mobile operating system and the first Android-enabled commercial handset from HTC being offered by T-Mobile. Much of this coverage has focused on Google’s ZXing barcode recognition SDK, a software library that turns an Android-enabled cameraphone into barcode scanner. Barcode scanning-enabled applications, such as Compare Everywhere (formerly called Android Scan) were among some of the most interesting winners of the first round of the Android Developer Challenge.

Unfortunately, many of these developers are ignoring the existence of key patents related to use of cell phones as barcode scanners that may ultimately doom their application. Several firms, including Neomedia and Scanbuy, have received patents on accessing content by taking a photo of a barcode with a cell phone, or linking physical media to information on a network using an mobile device. Are these patents defensible? Probably not, as they likely fail the requirement that an invention be non-obvious to someone versed in the state of the art.

Whether or not these patents will withstand judicial scrutiny in the long term is inconsequential. The patents have been issued and in the short term their owners will undoubtedly attempt to use them to extract funds from Android developers that build on top of ZXing to create barcode scanning-enabled mobile applications. Those that have managed to create an application that generates revenue will have to choose between paying up, folding, or taking the fight to court. I happen to know that some of these same patent holders have attempted to shake down other, non-Android, mobile application developers aggressively in the past.

What’s especially interesting is that this is an issue that Google appears to be carefully and studiously ignoring. While the EFF has been attempting to bust down some of these patents, that won’t be good enough in the short term. Until those patent hurdles are removed, developers will need to realize the risk that they may be facing by building on Android and the ZXing library.

Rogers iPhone 3G Pricing: Lube Not Included

Rogers has unveiled its pricing structure for the iPhone 3G in Canada, and it can be summarized in one syllable. Unfortunately, this is a family-oriented website, so I’ll have to use a different syllable:


First off: there’s absolutely no unlimited data plan. Rogers may claim they have tried to make the plans slightly less ridiculous, but they failed bigtime – it’s business as usual, continuing the time-honoured tradition of having Canadians pay through the nose for meager amounts of mobile data. The cost of data plans range from $60 for 400MB of data transfer to $115 for 2GB of data transfer. This stands in stark contrast to the simple, affordable AT&T iPhone plans in the US, which feature unlimited data, Visual Voicemail, 200 SMS text messages, roll-over minutes and unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling for every plan – and the cheapest plan is $59.99.

The differences are staggering. The cheapest Rogers plan only include 75 text messages, versus 200 for the AT&T plan. To match the capabilities of the AT&T plan, you’d have to spring for the $100 a month plan with Rogers. For $60 with Rogers, you get 150 minutes of talk time, versus the 450 minutes you get with AT&T for $59.99. That’s right – 3 times the talk time, and it’s 1 cent cheaper.

But wait! There’s less!

Rogers “Value Packs” are required for things like Caller Display, additional text messages, and Call Forwarding (which appears to be billed on a per minute basis, which strikes me is really odd). All of these “Value Packs” are noted with “Wireless Essentials Included” – really? I have no idea what that means, but if they’re included, why the hell are they an extra charge on top of the main plans?

By all appearances, the Rogers iPhone 3G  plans are optimized for complexity and designed to milk the consumer dry. Way to go Rogers, you’ve exceeded my expectations, but not in a good way.