Did Google Just Multi-Punch Apple In The Face?

As great as Android phones are getting, there has been one major feature lacking that users have complained about: multi-touch. Yes, some third-party apps have been free to use it on certain devices, but the best Android apps, those made by Google, have all lacked it.

Until now.

With the Android update announced for Nexus One phones today, Google has enabled multi-touch for its Browser, Gallery, and Maps applications. Specifically, they’ve enabled the popular pinch-to-zoom functionality that iPhone users are fond of.

So why did Google wait all this time to implement this obvious feature when its devices have been capable of it since the G1? Well, a report last year (written by me for another publication), cited a source within Google who noted that Apple and Google had a gentleman’s agreement that Android wouldn’t encroach on what Apple believed to be its property, certain multi-touch gestures, like pinch-to-zoom. With Apple and Google now fighting, all bets are apparently off.

Android chief Andy Rubin has said that there was no conspiracy about multi-touch, and suggested the Google apps haven’t implemented it simply because he didn’t like the functionality too much. But given that just about every Android user disagrees with him, that statement seems suspicious, at best. And why the change of heart now? And why does it happen to coincide with a time that Apple and Google are clearly at odds with one another?

While the two used to be just about as close as two companies can be, sharing two board members, one of whom was Google CEO Eric Schmidt, things have turned sour as the two are increasingly competing in various fields. This led to Schmidt resigning from Apple’s board last year, and since then things have gotten more sour. While the whole Google Voice not being allowed onto the iPhone situation was one thing, Steve Jobs reportedly made recent remarks that Google’s Android team was out to destroy the iPhone (as well as other disparaging remarks about Google).

And the battle continues on — those new Chrome OS tablet mock-ups are clearly envisioning multi-touch usage, just like Apple’s new iPad.

Apple and Google also apparently used to have a gentleman’s agreement not to poach each others workers, we reported in August. But again, with the situation between the two deteriorating, that is apparently off now as well.

And Google may have another reason to be okay with implementing multi-touch now: the Palm Pre. Since its launch last year, webOS (the OS that runs on the Pre and other new Palm devices) has allowed for native multi-touch, including pinch-to-zoom. While Apple has made some thinly veiled threatening comments about protecting their IP, they have so far not sought any legal action against Palm for this. Microsoft’s new Zune device uses similar multi-touch functionality too. Maybe Google now believes that Apple is not going pursue legal action against the use of this, despite their many multi-touch patents.

[image: warner brothers pictures]